Ever since I was young, food has played a significant role in my life.

I’d even say that I may have loved food a bit too much as a child, to the point that I had overweight or obesity for most of my childhood and teenage years.

Growing up overweight can be difficult as a child, and especially as a teenager. I was often bullied for my weight, which contributed to body image issues, insecurity, and anxiety and eventually developed into an eating disorder known as bulimia.

My battle with body image issues and bulimia led me to pursue a career in nutrition to build a healthier relationship with food, improve my health and, most importantly, help others who struggle with the same issues.

Here’s my story.

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The term body image refers to how someone views themselves.

For people like myself who struggle with body image issues, the way you view yourself is far more distorted than how other people view you. Having a negative perception of your body can promote feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and depression — and sometimes develop into an eating disorder.

However, body image issues generally don’t just appear out of thin air. They can be driven by factors like social media, bullying, and societal pressures.

Growing up, I had a lot of insecurities. I was typically viewed as the chubby kid at school and had very few friends.

Children are especially vulnerable to societal pressures and body image issues. School is one of the first places where we interact with people around our same age who aren’t family members.

If a child feels that their appearance affects their ability to make friends, they may try to find ways to change that factor themself. That was at least the case for me.

Because my weight was a factor I knew I could change, I had tried every new diet or trick I heard about to lose weight. However, the internet wasn’t nearly as accessible as it is today, so I couldn’t easily find healthy ways to lose weight.

Instead, I believed that if I simply didn’t eat food, I’d definitely lose weight.

Bulimia, short for bulimia nervosa, is a potentially life threatening eating disorder.

It’s typically characterized by binge eating, followed by purging. One common way to purge with bulimia is through forced vomiting. However, other methods include taking a laxative or diuretic, fasting, or partaking in excessive exercise (1).

During my teenage years, I’d often hear about people vomiting after eating as an easy way to lose weight. So I felt I’d go that route and purge after eating to lose weight and finally feel more accepted by my peers — something I later realized was a big mistake.

While I lost significant weight, my health deteriorated along with it. I could barely walk or concentrate, I was losing hair, and I’d regularly find myself blacking out — not what you expect to experience as a 14-year-old.

Purging isn’t a healthy or sustainable way to lose weight — I discovered that the hard way. Within a few months, my weight was back to where it started.

The cycle of unsustainable weight loss by restricting and bingeing continued for several years until I entered university, where I finally learned more about nutrition.

Health had always been a passion of mine throughout school. This passion initially led me to pursue a career as a doctor, as I believed it was the best way to help people.

However, during my first year of undergrad, we started learning about food and nutrition and their role in health and diseases. The more I learned about nutrition, the more I became consumed with its role in our overall health and well-being.

By the end of the year, I decided to switch to an undergraduate degree in human nutrition. This eventually led me to pursue my master’s in nutrition and dietetics and attain the other requirements necessary to become a registered dietitian.

One of the most important things I learned during university was that my purging and bingeing cycle was considered an eating disorder, and it was far more common than I thought.

Not to mention, it has a lot of long-term health consequences that I never considered, such as up to a 10-fold higher risk of early death (2).

That’s when I decided to seek help and work alongside a therapist and healthcare professional to change my body perception and build a healthier relationship with food.

Together, we were able to identify the thought patterns and beliefs that contributed to my bulimia. We worked on finding ways to change my perception of them and developed a maintenance plan to help prevent a relapse in the future.

Although the process took a while, I’m thankful for the support from my healthcare provider, therapist, and friends, who were alongside me throughout the journey. They provided me with the safe space I needed to face this challenge head-on.

Most importantly, this journey and my university education helped me learn the skills necessary to help others who’ve been in the same position.

Eating disorders are a sensitive topic, and people who have them often don’t let others know. This could be due to various reasons, including how eating disorders are sometimes negatively perceived by society.

As a registered dietitian and health professional, I aim to create a welcoming and safe space for all my clients to feel comfortable discussing their nutrition, including sensitive topics like eating disorders.

I can now comfortably say that I have a much healthier relationship with food and my body image.

Although the feelings of insecurity and anxiety come back from time to time, I now manage to better understand my emotions around eating.

When it comes to my day-to-day intake, I find it best not to follow any particular diet.

Instead, I try to consume enough protein and fill the rest of my diet with plenty of vegetables and healthy carbs, such as rice, oats, beans, fruit, and quinoa.

I keep my protein intake high to help with my exercise-related goals, such as building muscle mass. I also try to minimize my intake of highly processed foods and focus on whole foods, as they are far more nutritious.

Limiting the number of factors I allow myself to worry about in my daily diet also helps me maintain a better relationship with food and enjoy it for what it is.

If you find that worrying about what to eat stresses you out, I recommend only focusing on one new healthy habit at a time, such as having a source of protein with your main meal or incorporating more veggies into your diet.

Eating orders are relatively common and affect more than 30 million people in the United States alone.

If you or someone close to you has an eating disorder, it’s important to know that it’s OK to seek help or reach out to someone you trust.

Just starting the conversation with someone you trust can make you feel as if you’ve had a massive weight lifted off of your shoulders.

Eating disorders are complicated, and there’s no quick fix. Instead, they often require working with various health professionals like doctors, dietitians, and therapists, all of whom have your best interest at heart.

While seeking help may seem daunting at first, it’s important to know that you’re not alone, and the road to recovery starts with one little step.

Ryan Raman is a registered dietitian based in Auckland, New Zealand. He has a master’s degree in nutrition & dietetics from the University of Auckland and an undergraduate degree in human nutrition. Aside from writing for Healthline Nutrition, Ryan runs an online private practice where he helps people from around the world learn how to eat healthier and take back control of their health through simple nutrition practices. In his spare time, Ryan loves to go hiking, explore the wilderness, and experiment with healthy dishes. You can reach out to him via his website.