My idea of beauty turned out to be my worst nightmare!

Eating disorders are serious mental health illnesses that can affect any person irrespective of age, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.

Sometimes our minds distort our reflections.  Mirror reflections can be distorted by social constructed ideas of beauty.

Eating disorders are serious mental health illnesses that can affect any person irrespective of age, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. 

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There’s a common misconception among Africans living in the West and probably Africans everywhere.  It is this: eating disorders are white people’s problems and Africans can’t possibly suffer from eating disorders because most of them didn’t grow up with lots of food to go around never mind eating too much or too little.  This, right here, is the problem.

Eating disorders are serious mental health illnesses that can affect any person irrespective of age, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.  People affected with eating disorders exhibit disordered eating habits or behaviours as a way to cope with various difficult situations and feelings.

It is worth noting that eating disorders are not about food – it is about feelings.  A person may eat less or more because they feel in control of whatever situation they feel is stressing them. 

There are various types of eating disorders: Here’s a list of the most common: –


This is probably the most common which almost everyone has heard of.  A person with this illness limits the amount of food they eat.  They develop unrealistic rules around things they can or cannot eat.  They may also exercise excessively as a way to lose fat.  They may use laxatives to get rid of any remnants of food in their bellies.  Others experience cycles of bingeing and then purging i.e., eating too much food, and then vomiting.  Common signs of sufferers include unreasonable fear of being fat, obsession with body weight and distorted perception of their body shape.


This one is a vicious cycle of binge eating and purging.  At certain times of the year, anyone of us can indulge in eating large quantities of food, but for a bulimic person this overindulgence is followed by drastic actions to rid of that food i.e., vomiting, taking laxatives and excessive exercise.  Binge eating is a coping mechanism for some underlying psychological or emotional issues.  Most people with bulimia report to feeling disconnected with the action of overeating, unlike people who eat a lot on purpose to mark an occasion e.g., Christmas.

Bulimia sufferers may experience complications associated with the cycle of overeating and vomiting e.g., eroded teeth, abdominal pains, irregular periods for women and swelling of limbs.


This term was coined in the 90s by a California doctor, Steve Bratman, MD.  This disorder is characterised by excessive and obsessive behaviours in pursuit of a healthy diet.  Although eating a nutritious diet is good for wellbeing, an obsession with it can be detrimental to overall wellbeing.

To debunk the myth that eating disorders are a white people’s problem, Nicky, who is of African heritage tell her story of her struggles with an eating disorder.  It is of paramount importance to realise that an eating disorder is a mental illness and not a lifestyle choice, and people with the problems need as much support as those suffering from other illnesses – physical or mental.

NB:  If you have an active eating disorder, this post might trigger unpleasant feelings, please reach out to a support system or check out the useful resources at the bottom of the post.


On her 25th birthday, Nicky decided to gift herself by seeking help for her eating disorder.  Nicky is a pseudo name. 


Towards the end of her teen years, Nicky became obsessed with her looks after suffering from severe bullying and unkind taunts.  She thought she was too fat, and this affected the way she felt about herself and how she interacted with people.  She became so self-conscious about everything she ate because she believed no amount of exercise reduced her heavy weight.  In actual fact, Nicky was far from overweight.  Instead of finding ways to heal from childhood bullying, she became her biggest bully.

Then one day, a feed popped up in one of her social media accounts about how to keep the weight down.  There was a video of a gaunt girl making herself sick.  Instinctively, Nicky rushed to the bathroom, jammed three fingers down her throat and threw up violently.  “It made me feel so good like all the weight went down the toilet at that moment, she said. 

And the devil was born!  She began the vicious cycle of making herself sick even on days she hadn’t eaten anything.  At that moment and time, Nicky had no idea that although this action may aid in reducing excess weight, it was doing more harm than good to her body.  This went on for a few years.  Her family commented on her drastic change in weight, but no one recognised it as a problem.  And in Nicky’s eyes, their concerns were not concerns but expressions of jealousy because she thought she looked great.

A few years down the road, Nicky left her parents’ home to live independently, and the situation only got worse.  There was no one to make snide comments about her slim frame.  Like her grandmother who once told her, “with that body you will never have children!”

Around the same time of moving out, her then serious boyfriend left her without warning.  She was devastated.  She feared living alone.  The binge eating and purging only accelerated.  Every time she binged and then purged, she felt so much better, like a cloud of despair had been lifted off her.  All feelings of rejection or worthlessness dissipated with every binge and purge.  She was in a downward spiral.  Her sleep pattern was all over the place.  She risked losing her job.  She couldn’t imagine moving back home. 

When her periods stopped, she thought she was pregnant and went to see a doctor.  The doctor told her coldly, “you are not pregnant, these are the effects of your eating disorder!”.  It was the first time someone had referred to her ‘idea of losing weight’ as a problem.  The doctor then referred her to a specialist clinic for assessment.

Far from being helpful, this encounter brought on a range of new problems – depression, days without food, insomnia, self-loathing, and anxiety.  For the first time since the weight fell, she saw just how thin she was and not in a good way.  The person who assessed her told her as much.

She looked older than her 24 years.  Her self-esteem was at an all-time low, and the constant depressive episode where she cried inconsolably for days at a time.  She considered telling her family about it, but she knew they’d dismiss it as a make-believe problem, and that was worse than how she felt.  It would be more painful to be rejected or ridiculed by her family.

One day, quite unexpectedly, she bumped into her sister-in-love.  Her jaw dropped the minute she recognised Nicky.  “What the hell!” she exclaimed.  “You look sick!”

It was her saving grace.  She collapsed at her sister’s feet.  They hugged and sobbed for several minutes, ignoring onlookers.  The sister turned out to be her rock.  She encouraged her to seek help.  She promised to stand by her even if the rest of the family wouldn’t.   

As I write this Nicky is well onto recovery.  She accepts she has a problem and vows to do everything to recover.  She has sought professional help and joined support groups.  She has a therapist.

However, it is not all smooth sailing.  Nicky still suffers from bouts of depression where the only thing she wants to do is binge and purge.  During these moments, she stands in front of a mirror and talks to her reflection.  Many times, she’s fallen and cried like a baby. 

Nicky is learning new things every day to aid in her recovery.  She’s learning about self-care and self-love.  She’s learning the importance of living a healthy lifestyle.  It is not easy, but it is worth it.  Currently, she is of a healthy weight but still working on her mental state to accept she is of healthy weight.

Nicky’s message to anyone out there suffering:  Appreciate yourself as you are.  You are beautiful as you are.  Beauty is skin deep.  Do not measure your self-worth by weight or physical appearance.

Useful resources.


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Image: Kevin Laminto –

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