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"Igniting a positive spark"

My eating disorder journey was my deepest, darkest secret for 15 years — half of my life.

The shame, fear, and sheer panic I would have about anyone finding out about my secret was debilitating. It was a secret to everyone and anyone because, most importantly, I was lying to myself. I masked my disordered habits as "just being healthy", and it was a near-death experience that made me realise that this was not the way I wanted to live my life.

It all started as an innocent summer fling.

My eating disorder story started one hot summer’s day in the Midwest of the United States. I was a 13-year-old girl lying on the couch of my family friend's living room, staring at the ceiling.

Looking for anything to keep me entertained, I started flipping through the tabloid magazines on the living room table and came across an article: "How to Get Your Dream Summer Body." A brief two-page article outlined what calories were, how they differed based on food and their 'secret' to losing weight. The article preached about a diet on how you can lose weight by following a simple formula.

I started my eating disorder journey thinking it was a simple summer project. Little did I know I was beginning an equation that would control my life for the next 15 years. My innocent game became my daily routine for the rest of my summer. While I would hear my stomach growl at the beginning of this year, this quickly subsided after the first few days, and I had no feelings of extreme hunger.

Growing up, I was often labelled the 'model student', in that could do everything 'perfectly'. What is interesting is that this expectation did not come from my parents. It was self-prescribed. The pressure I put on myself was immense to try and be perfect. I needed to keep my straight As in all subjects, be an all-star athlete playing sports year-round, and look physically 'perfect'.

In contrast to traditional well-being longevity practices, the recent trend in Asian culture looks to be one where it is almost an automatic assumption that 'skinny' is beautiful, and the thinner you are, the 'better'. I ignored the lifestyle principles my elders recommended, and pushed my body to reach a state I thought was the beauty standard. I read every health website available and tried every new diet out there that would help me get to this 'ideal body.' While a persistent inside voice told me that I felt empty at whatever weight I was at and needed help, I refused to lean into this voice.

This toxic behaviour continued into my 20s, and in many ways, I accepted that this was my method for staying healthy. No one could tell me otherwise.

My story took a turn when I was binging and repeatedly purging in my apartment in Toronto, Canada. I was lying on the floor of my empty apartment alone, barely conscious. That night, I knew that I had to change my life, and it started with admitting that I was sick and needed help.

A period of education on eating disorders and holistic wellness followed, working with my community and network of medical professionals to allow for the gradual healing process. It was a journey of education, self-discovery, self-acceptance, and, ultimately, self-love. It was one where I learned how to love my authentic self holistically - one where I came to appreciate how we are all individually unique and beautiful, one where I learned that we all have a mind-body-soul to take care of.

It is important to note that I do not blame my 13-year-old self for getting sick. We live in a world where it can be challenging to create a strong sense of self-worth that is intrinsically driven. The way we can change this is to break the social stigma about discussing challenging topics such as eating disorders. I hope that sharing my story will empower others to see that there is a life without eating disorders. It continues to be complex and nuanced but ever so beautiful. It is a scenery of life I could not have experienced while suffering from this illness.

Every eating disorder story will be different, and my story is not intended to reflect the story of others. What I hope to do by sharing my story is for sufferers or those supporting them to find something they can relate to, in the hope of igniting a positive spark. To create a moment, to take a deep breath and look inward to start their recovery journey.

My intention in sharing my story is not to advocate for ED sufferers to go about recovery alone, as it is very much the opposite. We must support this illness as a society. However, I hope my story articulates the individual's importance in this recovery equation. You can do this!

I have since used my first-hand eating disorder recovery experience, education as a Certified Transformational Nutrition Coach, and Japanese cultural background to start my own Japanese wellness company, Mogami, in London, UK. At Mogami, we provide coaching seminars and education content on lifestyle coaching and traditional Japanese wellness concepts centred around longevity.

-Contributed by Saori

If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in Saori's story, or are concerned for yourself or a loved one, you can find support and guidance on the help pages of our website.