How I Recovered From Orthorexia Nervosa (Eating Disorder - Part 2)
The story below is what I did to recover and snap out from my eating disorder.
Continued from Part 1…
Going to The Doctor
Due to daily insomnia, I went to the polyclinic in the afternoon. The Indian female doctor that saw me was hella bitchy and rude. She didn’t take us seriously when we urgently wanted a referral to see a specialist. Honestly, with a BMI of 12.9, even a normal person could tell something was off. She told us it would take a few weeks for them to contact us blah blah.
My mom and I was pissed so we just decided to go over to the A&E at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), since only SGH and CGH have eating disorder wards catered to such patients. Finally, after queueing at SGH from 3pm together with all the Chao Geng warriors, we saw the doctor at 7pm. To this day I remembered exactly what the doctor said, “wow you are damn lucky to still be alive at this weight for your height. You need to be warded.”
I was given some medicine and the nurse pushed me in a wheelchair. I chose the class C ward as it was subsidized by the government and they were also newly renovated with air-con. Sorry man but no aircon in Singapore’s hot and humid weather is really a no-go, though I do not sleep with air-con at home. That's the end for the first day.
For the first half of the second day, nothing much happened either except for some chest X-rays and weight measurements. Apart from that, I tried eating the standard hospital food but I did not manage to finish it, because when you have not been eating for quite some time, SURPRISE SURPRISE, your stomach actually shrinks. I probably was full after consuming 50% of it. The dish contained meat and it made me feel awful, guilty and paranoid eating it as I felt it was “dirty”. Since I was so used to clean raw vegan food, I was disturbed about how the veggies had sauce and white rice, which was processed.
By late afternoon, a psychologist came and told me he wanted to transfer me to a psychiatric ward so I could be with the other Eating Disorder patients where they are given special diet plans by a nutritionist.
My Experience At The Eating Disorder Ward
When I first entered the psychiatric ward that was meant for 5 people, I was shocked because instead of seeing other skinny guys like myself, I saw 3 other middle-aged men with bellies. I thought to myself, “There’s no way they are facing an eating disorder like me.”
I was right when one of the them said ‘Hi’ to my dad. He introduced himself with two names and that he was a Lieutenant Colonel before continuing his grandfather bragging story. He finally ended off with asking my dad to introduce him to any young sexy ladies while his wife was cleaning him up.
That was when I realized this psychiatric ward was for patients facing mental disorders and challenges. I felt like I was being trolled. There were two other wards to fill 11 girls but as I was the only guy there, I could not stay in the girls’ wards. I was worried and I told my parents that I didn’t feel safe. They talked to the doctor about my concerns and since no one was occupying the Class A ward, they transferred me there.
During dinner time, all eating disorder patients had to sit together and eat under the guidance of a nurse. At first, I felt that this was such a stupid and unnecessary idea. But then, I realised it was to ensure that we ate as much as we could and support one another. The nurse would also track down the amount of food we didn’t finish so that we gradually ate more until the whole portion was consumed.
I hated the fact that the nurse even wanted us to finish every drop of sauce. My first meal was with 3 girls. They were all skinny and 1 managed to finish her food while the other 1 was struggling, and there was the 3rd girl who was literally playing with her food. She barely ate. At that point in time I was set on recovering, so I basically finished the whole meal in less than 10 minutes. I was famished. Imagine not eating properly and being under a caloric deficit for 2-3 years.
As I proudly finished my food, I wanted to leave the dining area and head back to my ward but I was not allowed. This was to prevent patients with Bulimia from vomiting their food immediately after consumption. Hence, everyone who finished their meal had to wait for at least 20 minutes before being allowed to leave.
My snacks that I brought to the hospital were also confiscated. I was so hungry that I wanted to eat supper but wasn’t allowed until I argued with the nurse. The nutritionist wanted to gradually increase the food intake as I had not been eating for a long time. They were afraid that it would shock my system and I would be in danger due to an electrolyte imbalance. However, hunger consumed me. I went ahead to snack and they allowed it only because it was my first day but I had to follow a meal plan the next day.
I could not sleep the whole night. Insomnia as usual was bad, and I was hungry. Breakfast was ready at 8 in the morning. My choice of food was Vegetarian Bee Hoon (I know, I know). This time there were 12 of us. 11 girls and the legendary guy aka me haha. I quickly finished my food in under 10 minutes again as I was hungry. I wanted to have more food but was not allowed to until the nutritionist came to see me.
At this point I couldn’t take it anymore because I was HANGRY (hungry + angry) and I was annoyed about the orderly system that was in place. I was already determined to recover so why can’t I just be free and eat whatever I wanted to?! My whole mind was consumed with food thoughts, like what to eat and when to eat. I called my mum and told her that I BASICALLY WANTED TO EAT THE WHOLE WORLD. That was how hungry I was.
The constant drawing of blood every 4 hours didn’t help since I hate needles too. Therefore, I told my mom I wanted to leave this place and she could trust me. At first, she did not want to but she realised I was feeling uncomfortable and acceded to my request. Before I left, the nutritionist saw me and gave me a standard meal plan which was 3 main meals, and 2 to 3 snacks for brunch (optional), tea-break and supper.
The Beginning Of My Recovery
I will never forget this day. 1 December 2019. The day I decided to change. At 41 kg, my mission was to gain weight. I went to shop for lots of snacks mainly at iHerb. My godparents also bought lots of food for me, whether it was snacks or supper.
I was basically eating all sorts of junk to fulfil my cravings that I had suppressed over the past 3 years. You name it, I eat it. Cookies, chips, nuts, crackers and oh yes, ice cream. For the first month, I ate 1 tub of Ben & Jerry every day religiously. Sometimes 2. I was eating 5-6 meals a day of around 5-6k calories.
Going from bland raw vegan diet back to normal, my grandma’s food tasted like heaven and it was so good; I missed it so much that I usually had 2 servings. Initially, when I started eating junk food and meat, I had heart palpitations and I broke into cold sweat. It took me about a week to overcome my fear and adjust to it. It’s all a mind game.
My weight skyrocketed from 41kg to 56kg in the first month. I gained to 61kg by the second month, 65kg by the third month and I reached the peak, at 68.6kg, by the end of the fourth month.
During this period, under my godfather’s concern, I saw a private psychologist twice. By the end of the second month, I stopped seeing her because I felt it was a waste of money and time as I was so determined at that point.
There are 2 important things that I faced during my recovery which is “Extreme Hunger” and “Mental Hunger”. Extreme hunger is something that you experience after periods of restricted food intake such as dieting or eating disorders. In simple terms, your body is playing “catch up” from being underfed. You may seem like you are eating a lot of food but it is actually needed and important to pay-back for the lack of food previously. Normal amounts of food don't satisfy you.
Mental Hunger is a sign where your mind constantly thinks about food and you always try to plan ahead of time what to eat. Even if you eat till you are physically full, you will still want to eat more mentally. It is a hunger that is just as valid as your stomach rumbling. You have to understand that your body no longer trusts your stomach to rumble when it is hungry as you have not fed it properly for a long time. Thus, it takes time for it to build the mind-body trust again.
(Click here to find out more about it and how to deal with your mental and extreme hunger.)
At 69.6kg, I was never this heavy in my life as I had a small body frame. This is called the overshoot weight, which is usually about 10% higher than your usual weight before eating disorder. I was 62kg, so 10% higher is around that weight.
After about 4 months, my extreme and mental hunger gradually died down. I no longer needed that large amount of food but I was still eating enough. I also thought about food less and could focus on other things. My skin also became less dry and my hair stop falling and regrew back.
PS: Please don’t lie to yourself. Always stick to normal portions and eat if you are not ready for intuitive eating.
Life is fun and enjoyable. Food should be a form of joy and pleasure, not something that adds stress to your life by restriction and calorie counting. Certainly, a balance diet is key. I’m not advocating eating junk food every time but for this period, it is essential that you refeed your body back to a healthy weight until you are even ready to head in the direction of a balanced diet.
After 4 months, I had a healthier relationship with food and a little food belly. I no longer had extreme and mental hunger and food no longer consumed my mind like it used to. I also started exercising and going back to the gym for general fitness to tone up and lose the belly. My weight gradually dropped back from 69.6kg to 63kg which was close to my pre-eating disorder weight and ideal for me.
Be patient and gentle with your body and mind. Don't think about the time you lost trying to battle this condition. Just look forward to a new lease of life. Recovering from an eating disorder is all about your mindset. You yourself have to want to heal badly. Nobody can help you but yourself. They can only support you but ultimately it is up to you.
You are the captain of your mind, and the master of your soul. Apart from wanting to commit suicide due to depression, I really almost died due to such a low weight and am very lucky and grateful to be alive. (Click here to see if you may have signs of an eating disorder.)
I would like to thank my family for the love and support, and friends (Ben, Wei Le, Ariel) that visited and stuck with me when I was at my darkest. Lastly, I will end off with a before and after pic which may be gruesome but needed for a wake-up call.
What have you done to start recovery for your eating disorder? Comment below!