Rayna | Overcoming Cultural Stigma

By: Rayna

We’re grateful to Rayna for sharing her experience of eating disorder recovery while growing up in a middle eastern household!

No Confidence and Wanted Change

The word taboosh in Lebanese is a word my mom used to call me that means chubby. How could a two-vowel word destroy my life? It was my nickname in my family. My family would call me it as a joke, but to me, every time I heard that word, my heart would sink. It made my self-esteem drop to a low, and I wanted to hide under my bed covers and dissipate from reality. I didn’t want people to think of me as the “chubby” sister. 

All my life, I found myself trying to fit in with everything, whether it was with my friends who were all skinnier than me, or to eat the same portions as my cousins at family dinners.  I decided that I had to change and prove to people that being chubby wasn’t my whole personality. I wanted to feel pretty, and not the third wheel. It was time for a quick diet. A quick diet, however, turned into a 3-year diet. A diet that I couldn’t control, because the voices in my head controlled it.

Black was my favorite color because it made me look “skinnier.” I had memorized the number of calories in almost all of my meals and snacks. Instead of going out with friends, or spending time with my family I made sure that I was never in a situation where I couldn’t control what I ate.

Certain foods were never allowed!  They could only lead to stomach fat! No stomach fat allowed in my body! After 2 years of constant ups and downs during my eating disorder, I was at my lowest weight. Food, an escape i used for comfort and enjoyment, had now turned into a curse. My mental health kept plummeting, and I couldn’t be present in conversations because I was busy thinking about what my next meal was going to be. However, the compliments over my new body kept pouring in.

Realization and Acceptance

After great suffering, and countless days of battling with my mind, I decided that I wanted my life to be in my hands. I hated feeling cold 24/7. I hated those sleepless nights, when my body was signaling the inadequate fuel that I consumed that day. How was I supposed to recover though? I couldn’t let my parents find out because that would only lead to more problems. They never understood because in their eyes, eating disorders are shameful, or for the mentally ill.  

After a missing menstrual cycle for three years, I knew that it was time to face my problems, even if I had to do it alone. I couldn’t let the scale define me, even if that felt like the easier route. I didn’t want to be 40 years old, and unable to have children. I didn’t want my focus to be on the food in front of me, rather than the human conversing with me. 

Despite losing weight, I still receive comments about my body from my relatives.

So, when will I be perfect enough to not have harsh comments thrown at me? Never. 

It’s something that I’ve accepted. In middle eastern families, it’s normalized to make comments on weight to all the daughters. Instead of the comments changing, I’ve learned to not listen, because we really only live one life so I’m going to eat the foods I want to eat! 

God knows that I was under-fueling myself, and I satisfied my cravings by thinking of my weight loss progress, and of the body that I finally had. However, growing up and realizing the destruction I had caused to my body engendered self-awareness. The realization that hit me caused me emotional distress. Why had I destroyed my metabolism, risked my chance of healthy fertility, and jeopardized my relationship with something that my body needs. I saw my new body as a transportation to validation, and the key to happiness. 

The day I visited the OBGYN was a day filled with anxiety. I had become what I thought I would never become. Before I suffered the realities of my restriction, I underestimated the impact that it had. I only thought of it as a diet that I would soon forget about, and that I would get back to eating regularly. But little did I know that eating disorders trap you in a hole that you can’t get out of, unless you change your mindsets, and realize that your life is so valuable, and that being your ideal weight won’t get you anywhere (unless you want to be a Victoria Secret model). 

See, the truth about going through an  eating disorder, is that your values are constantly changing. Sometimes I think about my health, and my future, but sometimes I think of how I look or what I eat. 

Solo Recovery and Cultural Stigma

My relationship with food has improved tremendously. I can eat my mom’s meals happily again without thinking about the number of calories. I can now come home, and eat whatever I’m craving. I can now spend time with my friends without making sure I eat less than all of them. I can now sit next to my sister and eat food that we have loved since we were children. I can now workout because I genuinely want to! This freedom and happiness have motivated me to educate and preach awareness about health to other girls. I want them to know what I now know, and I want to show them that they aren’t alone, and that your health is so vital to care about.

I share my story because I want girls to know that they are not alone, because that’s all I felt. I also want them to know that it’s not selfish to feel like you are going through a hard time, and that you deserve to seek professional help, which is something I should have done. 

Living in a middle eastern household means that eating disorders don’t exist, and they are only used to gain “attention.” I was suffering silently in fear of disappointing my parents, and I prioritized the weight of my parents’ sacrifices and aspirations for my success.  I always made sure not to dissuade when they disregarded mental health issues, although I wish that I had the confidence to speak up. I am so proud of myself for being able to get better, all alone. I want to use my experience to write and help others change and realize that their health should be their top priority, because my journey was a rough journey. I’m glad that I finally found motivation to dive into recovery, and I hope you do too. I intend for all of us to accept our bodies today, appreciate our bodies tomorrow, and care for our bodies whenever. 

Rayna

(she/her)

Rayna is a student in the northeast. She says her ideal day would be taking a train to the city and visiting bookstores and cafes. She loves to read, and her favorite author is Dolly Alderton. In the future, she wants to pursue a medical career, maybe be a family medicine doctor, or a physician. She also loves plants, and enjoys skin care!