Whether standing on the Wii Fit or working out my BMI in biology, I loved asking my friends what category their BMI was in and I would reply smiling saying that I underweight. I’m not sure why I was proud of being malnourished. Maybe it’s because it demonstrated how much control and will power I could have? Maybe it’s because in a world where everyone was obsessing over their weight, I was winning?
As stupid as it seems, I have never actually realised that being underweight was unhealthy. When everyone is striving to be as skinny as possible, how could that ever be a bad thing? I managed to function well for years with much less calories than I should’ve been eating, especially considering I was active and still growing. However, it wasn’t until I became far too skinny that I understood how dangerous disordered eating can be for you.
Your body requires around 2000 calories a day. This is a necessity – this is not the “maximum”; this is the amount of calories you need to fulfil bodily functions. If you eat less than that you are working at a deficit; your body will burn it’s stores to keep you alive. So yes, this will make you lose weight, however, if you lose too much weight then the body’s stores will become so depleted that it breaks down your muscle stores for energy, which is extremely dangerous.
Low Blood Sugar
If you are underweight then you are prone to having low blood sugar, as your body doesn’t have the stores it needs to keep your blood sugar concentration within the acceptable range. Low blood sugar can cause distressing symptoms, such as, dizziness, sweating and blurred vision. It can even cause fainting and trembling.
In November 2017, I made an active decision to restrict my calorie intake because I had put on more weight than I was comfortable with. At first, it was fine since I was just eating a lot less junk food but then this choice to restrict my calories became involuntarily. I lost my appetite completely and I became overwhelmed with anxiety. I couldn’t face eating and when I did, or even when I drank something, I would be sick immediately. I fought with my mum as she tried to make me eat. Having three meals a day was a seemingly impossible task. I got significantly more anxious when I knew I had to leave the house and throwing up with nothing in my stomach became so painful, I used to eat solely to be sick. After being sick I would feel better for two minutes. This is a dangerous thing to be doing but I felt, at that time, it was the only thing I could do to make myself feel a bit of relief. I didn’t know how to cope and I didn’t care if what I was doing was unhealthy because I was just trying to last the day.
During this time I lost a lot of weight; my mum would wince whenever she saw me and tell me “your clothes are hanging off of you”. My work uniform got far too big around the waist that my trousers were constantly falling down – I was skeletal. It wasn’t the weight loss, not even losing my boobs and bum, that was the worst thing for me – it was the feeling. I was constantly cold, even though I was overheating, I felt that I had no heat circulating to my extremities. I felt tired 24/7. My limbs just felt so weak, as if I had no strength in them. And perhaps the weirdest sensation of all was the empty feeling inside me, not mentally, but physically I felt empty – like I had no food inside of me. It was a horrendous feeling and my stomach hurt so badly with it having no food to process. I walked painfully slowly while my mind raced too fast for me to process.
The good news is that I recovered. I got my appetite back from forcing myself to eat three meals a day, eventually, it was no longer a struggle and just natural. This process was a lot harder than you would think and lasted longer than I would like to admit. The best feeling was when I complained “I’m hungry” and when I realised what I had said I celebrated – I had not been hungry for as long as I could remember. This thought was a milestone in my recovery, it meant I was getting back to normal. My body was working again – it was producing the signals essential for me to function. This was a proud moment and I felt greatly reassured in my journey to recovery. In the pictures below, you can see my before and after – even the colour of my skin has improved.
Now I’m a healthy weight and I feel so much more energetic. When I move, I can feel the strength in my limbs and I feel warm again. Not only is my body happy with my food intake, I’m getting happier with my body as I’ve learned that I look so much better in clothes being a normal weight. I’m still trying to gain weight because the sudden weight loss stole my boobs and I’m terrified that I will become too anxious to eat again, so I want to have some reserves.
This whole experience has just made me appreciate my body so much – it is not there to look as society deems preferable – it is there to keep you alive (no matter how much you test it). Believing being underweight is a goal now seems like a dangerous idea and much work needs to be done in educating young people that you need to respect your body because abusing it will lead to awful consequences. I thought how skinny I was demonstrated my strength and my willpower, but it was really making me look weak and frail. Revolving your life around your weight is not strong – it is unhealthy and you deserve more out of life – you deserve happiness.
A BMI > 18.5 IS ESSENTIAL