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Gen Y Speaks: After 2 binge eating episodes in 4 years, talking about my eating disorders helped me overcome them

Growing up, I was overweight and was used to hearing comments about my size.

Gen Y Speaks: After 2 binge eating episodes in 4 years, talking about my eating disorders helped me overcome them
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Growing up, I was overweight and was used to hearing comments about my size.

I remember how in my primary school days, I had to go to the “Trim and Fit Club” everyday before morning assembly for additional exercise to keep me in shape.

But because positive change doesn’t happen overnight, my fellow classmates would remark callously: “Why are you still so fat?”

My friends would toss such comments my way If they saw me changing into my exercise kit in class, making mean jokes at my expense, and then laugh about it afterwards.

Ultimately, these were wisecracks that I wasn’t meant to take seriously. But I know that at the time, it hurt to be the butt of their jokes.

What also affected me were the actions by my well-meaning family members too. To help me lose weight, my parents would pass me health shakes and dietary supplements.

It reminded me that there was something wrong with my weight. Mealtimes no longer became a source of enjoyment, but a constant battle trying to control my flaws and resist temptation.

Whenever I looked at the mirror, I looked for imperfections like my flabby tummy, rather than the good aspects of myself. 

From the childish banter from my friends, the pre-assembly exercises that I had to do that others didn’t, and the nutritional shakes my parents insisted on, all of these gradually reinforced my own understanding of body weight and dietary habits.


So, I tried everything I knew to lose weight. I would drink juices blended from lemon peels, celery, and bitter gourd. According to urban myth, bitter flavours are supposed to help.

In any case, whether it was due to my efforts or by nature, I did lose weight as I grew older. Relatives remarked at how fit I looked.

But my extreme negativity towards obesity hadn’t changed.

I am ashamed to admit that it was me who became the aggressor. This time, I was the person who dished out obesity jokes instead of being at the receiving end of them.

During 2008, when swine flu had just broken out in this part of the world, I remember how among my friends, joking about someone’s weight became a popular joke.

I recall how I would remark that one particular overweight friend looked like a “swine”, which would provoke uncontrollable laughs from my peers. This was even though I knew how much such comments hurt me previously.

In my head at the time, it was normal for someone’s size to be joked about, because that was what happened to me in primary school.

I didn’t realise how superficial my own understanding of a person’s body image and weight issues was, and how much I would regret making those comments, until I had my binge eating episodes.


During a stressful time figuring out what course to take in university as a 21-year-old, I inexplicably began stuffing myself with everything I could get my hands on.

I would tear through packets of cakes, cookies and chocolates, looking for the next sugar rush to distract me from the vague pit of anxiety I felt.

All I knew was that I wanted my anxiety to disappear, and food seemed the easiest way to distract myself from it. it felt straightforward – find food, eat food, feel good.

Bingeing was my way of exerting control over my circumstances, even though it was really a form of losing control. 

Realising that it was a problem, I saw a therapist, who taught me in my first meeting to write a letter of love to myself. Reading that out loud helped with my self-esteem.

Things also became better after I started a part-time job as a tuition teacher, which helped me realise that I could contribute something to the young lives of these students, and put aside my own anxieties.

All of these helped, but only temporarily.

Three years later, when I graduated from university, I became anxious again trying to find a job.

Once again, I turned to binge eating while hunting for a job. It was a vicious cycle that involved being worried about rejection from potential employers, experiencing guilt when bingeing, and feeling worse about myself when I see myself in the mirror.

This time, when I saw my therapist, he suggested that I see a psychiatrist. Eventually, I was put on antidepressants.


What also helped greatly was when I joined a group called Overeaters Anonymous. It was a 12-step group modelled after the likes of Alcoholics Anonymous. When I joined in September 2019, it was regularly attended by four to seven people who faced similar problems as me. 

At these weekly sessions, I would meet others who were also dealing with eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating. 

In a safe space such as this, I became open to sharing about what I was going through. The process helped me realise three things.

One, that I wasn’t alone in my suffering.

Two, that talking about my plight could support others who are also on the path of recovery too.

Three, it was through such sharing that I realised how difficult it is for men to talk about the eating disorders they may be experiencing.

Yet, men are not immune from body image issues, and like women, need all the help we can get to overcome their situation.

It is perhaps an unfortunate byproduct of masculinity that men share less about their emotions.


I remember a male friend from primary school once telling me about his struggle with bulimia. He spoke how he would stuff his finger down his throat, to induce a gagging reflex to vomit out what he ate.

He was slender and tall. You wouldn’t have expected him to suffer from an eating disorder.

When I happened to see him years later, I asked how he was coping with the eating disorder he had shared previously, because I was also trying to cope with mine.

There was a flash of fear in his eyes, before he said, “Me? Maybe you remembered wrongly.”

It is because of how much talking about my journey openly helped me in trying to deal with my eating disorders, that I decided to pen this column about my experience.

We’ve all heard the advice to “talk about it” and to consult with a professional if we feel down. But I want to stress how important such advice is, especially for men who are reticent about reaching out for help.

I know because I felt the same worries about how people might perceive me as being a wimp, or that it was a form of giving up control over my personal situation, even though as I said earlier, binge eating was, in reality, an unhealthy coping mechanism.

But in the absence of such positive open sharing, any male talk about body weight and eating disorders become monopolised by toxic jokes and harmful stereotypes, as I can fully attest to from my childhood.

And that just makes things a lot worse.


John Lim speaks on creating happier workplaces for millennials and is the author of the book Take Heart: Thriving in the Emotional Wilderness. He blogs at

Related topics

obesity body weight binge eating

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