Disordered Eating in the Land of Denial
A lot of things are considered, “Un-Nigerian”….
Homosexuality, Feminism, and …. Eating Disorders.
No Nigerian I know, and I know a lot of Nigerians, has ever admitted to having, or claimed know of someone who had an eating disorder. They just don’t exist on the general plane of consciousness for Nigerians, and any attempt to discuss eating disorders with friends, family, acquiantances, and strangers of the Nigerian variety are swiftly met with dismissal, disbelief, and sometimes, straight up derision.
Responses range from
Only Americans have eating disorders
It is not your portion, in Jesus’ name. Reject it!
as if simply verbally rejecting a serious psychological condition could just make it evaporate into thin air, but no amount of rejecting, praying, or wishful thinking allowed me to wave away the stench of vomit as I upchucked my guts into the toilet after every meal.
If I could have had my way, I would have been anorexic. But anorexia requires a level of self-control I have only ever approached in my most disciplined of moments, which have always been, to put it shortly….brief.
Plus I like food too much to be a successful anorexic, so I settled for bulimia instead.
All of my life I had been slim, but my Mother’s constant struggles with her weight impressed on me with utmost urgency the need to be thin.
She would constantly remind me to be careful of gaining weight and point at my thighs, tutting that I was in danger of developing cellulite if I wasn’t careful.
Sometimes she would stop me from eating my favourite snacks if she felt I had had more than I should be allowed to eat. (Her definition of ‘enough’ and mine never quite seemed to intersect).
She would tell me that my breasts and bottom would look perkier if I were thinner, and I would look prettier and more graceful if only I would just lose another 15kg.
So diet I did. For most of my life, since I was about 12 or so, I have been on a diet.
In fact, I became so efficient at cutting weight that by the time I was fourteen in JS3, I had become something of an Olympic dieter. The January to April second term of Js3 was probably my all time most successful dieting episode to date because by the time I arrived home at the end of second term, I was nothing but skin and bones. And Turner, the man who molested me from time to time, commented as he lifted my hips to eat my pussy in his boy’s quarters in Maitama, that I was incredibly, shockingly thin, which he liked because it made me lighter and easier to carry as he held me up against the wall and ground his erection into me.
Later, the appetites of men like him would determine whether I teetered closer to the edge of anorexia or obesity.
Nobody ever noticed that there was anything wrong with me. Because I had always been slim with large breasts and a semi-decent level of nyash, I received compliments. When I became thinner, these features became more prominent, and I got the compliments even more.
Not once did anyone ask why my weight seemed to fluctuate so endlessly, and my obsessive record keeping of my measurements, weigh-ins, statistics and figures was approved of by my Mom, whom I suppose vicariously succeeded in her own dieting through me.
Macaroni was irresistible to me, and on Tuesday nights and Sunday afternoons in Loyola, I was unable to avoid stuffing my face with as much macaroni as I could get my hands on. Right afterwards though, I would be awash in guilt and disgust at myself, and the compulsory march to the Girls dorm after meals on Sunday to change out of Sunday Wear into shorts for games, invariably saw me retching into one of the gutters that lined the road to hostel.
Once, I was caught throwing up after meals behind the clinic by Nurse Uche who dragged me into the sick bay and demanded to know if this was a regular occurrence. I admitted to her that yes, I did as a matter of fact, compel myself to vomit after every meal, and that it was for the best really, as my life would come to untold ruin were I to rise above 66 kg.
She immediately pulled out my file and wrote bulimia nervosa under a new entry. For the next week I was petrified I would be summoned to the Principal’s office to discuss my eating disorder, and that my carefully organised system of obsessive aerobics, food restriction, vomiting, and constant measurement would be exposed and blown apart, but the summons never came.
There was never any follow up, even on my subsequent visits to the Clinic for Malaria or the odd headache here and there. All the nurses I came into contact with seemed to gloss over my file and address my current ailment only, and I actively tried to avoid that nurse until I think she completely forgot she ever saw me huffing and puffing until a chunky stream of half digested food came pouring out of my mouth.
A couple of times I tried to mention to some adults that I thought I might have a psychological problem with food, but they either told me to stop reading so many American storybooks or never to speak about mental illness in public or to anyone else for that matter. So as not to embarrass myself and my family, I quickly learned to keep my thoughts on my obsession to myself.
Also, none of the girls I knew growing up seemed to have anything wrong with them. Nigerian girls have always seemed to me to be so well put together and so in control of themselves at all times, that half the time I wonder how I managed to make the cut to be born Nigerian. I certainly don’t act like it, and most days I wonder when someone is going to realize what a fraud I am, and call me out for being a fake Nigerian.
Having an eating disorder in Nigeria is really to struggle in silence. Bulimia is after all, not a disease of the stomach, but of the mind, and Nigerians are none too kind to people with mental disorders. Any admission of any level of psychological distress is an admission of weakness, and true Nigerians are anything but.
It’s ironic that I who forced myself to diet obsessively when there was nothing wrong with my weight as a teenager, should struggle with an inability to diet successfully as an adult. In some ways, when I moved to America to attend university, my eating disorder reversed itself, and to escape my tormentor of six months, I began to eat compulsively in a desperate bid to gain weight.
There were no resources to help me then, and as far as I know, there remain no resources in Nigeria to help anyone like me now. I can only wonder how many Nigerian girls ( and boys ) suffer quietly as they fight a vicious battle with food they cannot win.