Dealing With Body Issues & How To Overcome Them

by Katricia Lum

Growing up, I feared family reunions.  What was supposed to be a joyous gathering of ‘so long never seen you’ relatives and of course the stuffing of my face with every food possible turned to a panic-inducing need for escape.

Escape from my body, that is.

The Unwanted Comments About My Weight

It’s a universally Malaysian thing to expect comments from relatives in these gathering that range from the indirect: “Someone sure developed a love for food since we last met!” to the too direct: “Wow, you’ve grown fatter!”

(Of course the worst ones are the ones when you’re referred to as a third person, most of the time directed to your mom: “Oh *insert your mom name*, seems like you’ve been feeding your daughter a lot of good food huh?”)

I grew to detest family reunions, sometimes opting to suddenly develop a flue to get out of seeing my relatives (when I was perfectly fine the hour before).

Which frankly, I regret now as the relationships between my cousins and I are non-existent. I could care less about the nosy & judgmental aunties or uncles. But the cousins I grew up so close to having turn into adversaries with all the comparing from our parents.

Even worse, growing up in a household of four girls. You can imagine how the house was filled with insecurities, unwarranted competition and unneeded comparisons.

Looking back, I cringe at the unhealthy views and perceptions my sisters and I were forced to grow up with. If things were different I wonder if we would have grown up being nicer, kinder and less suspicious of each other and other women.

Hitting the age of puberty definitely brings about many awkwardness. We’ve all been there, no one looks good during those years (If you did, screw you and your perfect genes!).

Puberty Hit Me Early, Unfortunately

As a normal child shifting to her adolescent years, I gained weight. Gained a pair of breasts (oh boy, thank the Lord I was in an all-girls school) and pimples were all but abound over my once baby-skinned face. And wait, I thought only boys grew mustaches?

Worse part was I was one of the earliest girls in school to go through puberty! I remember not knowing how to explain to my friends that I was now bleeding out of my vagina every month. And why there was this mini diaper looking thing in my backpack- STOP DON’T GO THROUGH MY THINGS. It certainly didn’t help that my own family (who all also went through puberty at an early age) deemed it a sad thing. So I felt ashamed and wanting to hide this affliction. The average of puberty is 10 to 12 years old. I started mine at 9.

If you read up on puberty facts now, this is called precocious puberty. It’s nothing deadly or serious however it does cause a stunt in growth.

That definitely explains my short height (I’m only 152cm).

And it definitely causes self-esteem issues particularly when everyone around you is smaller and still in their cute child phase.

The only very, very, SMALL consolation is when everyone eventually started getting their period and dealing with the troubles that come with it: Changing pads during school hours, period leaks and cramps; I’ve already mastered all those issues. Come on, get on my level.

As I gained weight, I was put on a diet. Carbs were at a minimal, I could not take more than two scoops of rice. If I did, I would get comments such as “You sure you want to eat so much rice?” or “I think you need to eat less rice.”

I was 12, then.

These are definitely surefire ways of developing body image issues, only accentuated by the media’s own distorted views of how humans should look like!

A decade later and I still feel guilty for eating a bowl of rice. My food always remains unfinished. When I go out with friends for late night mamak sesh, all my drinks have to be kosong while I enviously look at my friend’s roti canai.

There’s a delicate balance of wanting to be healthy VS an addiction to being “thin”. When it becomes a big worry when I binge a little on those PMS days, that’s an issue. When someone forces themselves to work out until they faint just because they had a slice of cake, that’s an issue.

This isn’t just a “Wah wah wah my life is so sad” story. It’s about the importance of showing ourselves a little compassion. If you’re not a size 0 like runway models (whose jobs are literally to BE that size), it’s okay. If you’re too tied up with work and life to exercise on the daily, it’s okay. If you decide to treat yourself to McDonalds instead of a salad, it’s okay.

How To Work On Body Issues

This story only ends badly if I left you guys hanging like this. Fortunately, I”m not the only one out here who wishes for a body positive world and in my quest of hanging up my hangups, I have found a couple of ways to work on body issues.

1. Change Your Thoughts

Not the typical positive affirmations of “love thy body no matter what”. Realistically, when the need for exercise or clean eating arises, no positive thought can erase that want, that longing to do so. However I feel like the way we go about it is wrong.

Instead of “Omg I need to run for 30 minutes now because I’m so fat”, how about “I will exercise because it makes me feel good.” The more we see exercise as a punishment, the more we’re going to dread it and if we only see exercise as a goal to change our bodies, we will also detest it even more.

So think of exercising and eating clean as a way of treating yourself, akin to a spa day. That might be hard to remember when you’re out of breath but as you accomplish even just another minute on the treadmill, you’ll definitely build confidence.

2. Stop following negativity (literally)

In other words, stop following skinny models with unrealistic bodies on Instagram.

Instead why not follow more friends? Follow some cute dogs or cats? Or body positive accounts when body sizes from thin to average to big are celebrated! When you can actually see yourself in those girls.

If you’re still vying for that ideal body, instead of beating yourself up, take a stance and follow accounts dedicated to clean-eating and exercise!

So instead of feeling bad about yourself, you know you’ve taken the initiative to start on your goals.

A following of models will only add to your body issues. Remember, those girls are paid to maintain a certain size for their careers or it’s just plain ol’ genetics that most of us aren’t blessed with.

So rid your feed of anything that will clutter your body issues now!

3. Start A Diet, Not A Riot

We know, we know, after all that preaching about loving thy body the way it is and we ask you to go on a diet?! Seriously?

Seriously.

Obviously we don’t mean starving yourself or counting every calorie consumed (what a sad life to live) but just taking note of what goes in your body. Processed food and unnatural sugars were found to contribute to bad mental health, and that’s merely a small blip of their effect towards our bodies.

Eating clean is daunting to start, especially if you’ve been used to only eating processed or fast food. The sight of vegetables and fruits might even be nauseating! But eating clean shouldn’t be synonymous with bland, icky, tasteless and inedible.

Fruits are the dessert of the eat clean world and vegetables when cooked or paired with the right ingredients can be as good as a slice of pizza (well, almost).

Eating clean also means you gain a new skill, cooking! Trust us, you’ll want to cook your meals instead of buying them. Somehow eating clean is also synonymous with expensive. But also, we wrote on how to eat clean at the mamak too!

Once you get the hang of it, it’s so fun to experiment.

And it’s not all salads, you can make healthy pizzas or if you’re going for a low-carb diet, lo and behold the best thing ever:

A chaffle, which is basically a waffle made of just egg and cheese. And it’s delicious, trust us. And bonus points: it doesn’t leave you feeling bloated!

One more thing we deemed important to note, being on a diet doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself of “”unhealthy”” food. Referring to our first tip, think of eating nasi lemak, a slice of cake or cheese filled meatballs as a treat! And not something to beat yourself up about.

Life is to be lived. Once you’re on your deathbed, I doubt the accomplishment that will flash in our minds will be that we managed to stay a certain size our whole life.

And it’s also time to stop this cycle from affecting our younger ones. Of course social media is already brainwashing them. But as older people who’ve been through this, we can tell them what’s realistic and most importantly, what’s healthier.

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