To Eat or Not to Eat – Rakhi Sachdev

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To Eat or Not to Eat – Rakhi Sachdev

It isn’t widespread knowledge that within the South Asian community the issue of Eating Disorders (ED’s) exist. Perhaps it isn’t quite widespread knowledge of what Eating Disorder’s actually are. I mean, how could anyone have problems with food, when food is such an important part of the culture, such a vital part of our celebrations, of our family gatherings, a warming way in which we express our love and welcome?

Yet, whilst on the one hand, food is so revered, on the other hand the topic of ‘weight’ is also extensively discussed:

‘She’s gained so much weight since she* got married.’

‘She can’t seem to lose any of that pregnancy fat, apparently she’s been trying though’

‘Have you seen him* lately, he’s looking so good since he started working out at the gym’

‘You look amazing, how did you lose so much weight?’

‘Maybe you should cut down on the sugar a little, it might help with your weight’

I could keep going with the many types of things that have cropped up in family/friendship discussions over the years, but I think you probably get the gist with these alone, and perhaps resonate with what you may have heard or discussed yourself.

I guess what I am trying to get at here is that when such conflicting messages can be so ingrained within the culture, how could we as a community possibly be exempt from perhaps coming face to face with an ED? This is not to say that everyone who grows up hearing such conflicted messages will fall into the category of having one, but the possibility is very much there, especially when combined with societal messages we hear in Western culture, from the moment we can pretty much breath, those that make up the diet culture that is hugely prevalent and undeniably prominent.

From the age of 8, I was told I needed to lose weight by family members. That alongside being bullied by my peers at primary school led me to actively want to lose weight, prior to entering Secondary school. What was meant to be ‘healthy’ weight loss became exacerbated by the positive reinforcement given by the same family members who now complimented me endlessly about my ‘new body.’ Now I was driven to keep letting go of the weight, so I could continue to receive praise and well, be accepted, I guess. Of course, once I started to look a little gaunt, these same family members were questioning why I had barely anything on my plate…

It wasn’t long before I fell into an Eating Disorder named Anorexia Nervosa at the age of 12/13. This particular ED essentially involves restricting food and exercising excessively all in the name of losing more and more weight. At its most extreme it can potentially be fatal, but thankfully I was seen to by a set of doctors and therapists before it could get that far. I was pretty emaciated, completely fearful of food and certain bodily functions, namely menstruation, had stopped because I did not have enough body fat. After much needed intervention and therapy, about 2 years later I had somewhat overcome it to only then, 6 months down the line, fall into Binge-Eating Disorder (BED). Whilst that can really speak for itself, the years of restriction had now given way to me wanting to ‘rebel’, and just overeat. There was a certain sense of ‘thrill’ that came with this ‘permission’ to just eat and not care. This was exacerbated by the stress of A-Levels and a self-inflicted pressure to be the ‘perfect’ student, daughter and friend. It didn’t take too long before I saw myself back in therapy.

The want to be love and accepted, to be ‘perfect’ for the people I loved gave way to patterns of eating behaviour that were only detrimental to my psyche and physical health. Food was a symptom, never the actual problem, which is mostly the case with Eating Disorders. Unpacking the underlying issues is what is crucial to recovery, which in turn leads to taking the steps towards developing a healthy relationship with your body, food, and the Self.

For me, only now is the pendulum between the 2 extremes slowing right down, and am I reaching some sort of equilibrium. It has taken a lot of unpacking, overcoming fears, shame, forgiving of the family members that I had built resentment against, and understanding of the beliefs I had externally learnt about weight and the bodily aesthetic, all which has helped me develop a relationship with myself. It’s a work in progress and takes daily recognition and work. I am learning to see food as a pleasure, and something to be enjoyed, which essentially is part and parcel of what our culture shows us, before any other messages enter the realm and confuses us. Taking the steps to loving my body has been no easy feat, but it is a part of the work and every day we get that little bit closer. Gratitude for all it did for me over the battlefield years, and what it continues to do for me every single day in my present, is so instrumental and has helped me immensely with shifting my mindset.

Whilst this is my specific story, I am writing this because I know that I am not the only one to have experienced an Eating Disorder, and actually within the South Asian community Eating Disorder’s do very much exist and do need a light shone upon it. If this is speaking to you quite directly, please know you’re not alone, or if you know anyone who has undergone an ED or is currently, also do let them know. Education within the community is so important, for an understanding of what they are and as like any other mental health issue, for stigmas to be let go of.

Recovery is absolutely possible, and there is a myriad of ways to seek support. This is a topic that can feel quite challenging to talk about, especially when unrecognized within the community, but it is through our voices that change can occur, no matter how small we begin. We deserve to enjoy food and we deserve to love and accept ourselves and our bodies. Essentially, it is our birth right…

*Disclaimer: I am aware that some may not identify with She/He/Him/Her pronouns. I do not mean to cause offence, and these are solely used as examples to highlight the ‘background chatter’ that can be discussed within the South Asian community.

By Rakhi Sachdev

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