sugabelly-bulimia

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

to

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. I have my eyes set on the new waist trainer of 2017 will bring, technology is my miracle.

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. She would come talk to me about different options like cellulite treatment with forskolin and what-have-you.

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.



There are 25 comments

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  1. abokishop

    Well, very few nigerians will take this topic up like u have…and even fewer understand enough to be bothered about their weight…I even saw a guy so big he now has boobs…lol and he was not even aware anything was wrong because be was rocking hes agege bread and viju drink like theres no tomorrow. ….nigerians just rock whatever situations they find themselves in and bind the rest to hell IJN and it works for them and proves ignorance is bliss…

  2. Cassandra

    As someone that is plus sized, I will say fat is not so bad in Nigeria. The more exposed we are. The more likely we are to accept the oyinbo obsession with pounds and scales. My kid sister has a food issue (ehmmm better than saying eating disorder) she eats like a one year old and has passed out in church before. The dr said she was malnourished. We did an intervention. She eats better now. No counselling and stuff….

  3. adelee1234

    “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” walahi every other thing almost went blurry from this paragraph which you slotted in as though insignificant but would have gotten most readers return for a re-read. Yeah the story was about eating disorders but somehow i crave to know the full gist (as though i had the rights to demand). I however do know lots of young girls around me who are anorexic. Thin is the new sexy so many start to starve and soon they start to resent food as they associate food with michellin folds and that is unacceptable in today’s society. Bulimia like you suggested is a spiritual something in Nigeria. If your parents attend MFM or CAC, you daren’t be seen to have spiritual issues.

  4. HardlySimilar

    I was bulimic in secondary school too. I went to the same school in fact. I am Nigerian. I would go days without eating properly and then binge on spaghetti or rice and beans, and would go to the toilet right there in the dining hall and send everything back up immediately, because I was afraid of even a little bit digesting. I knew I had an eating disorder. I actually became bulimic after reading about it and deciding it was my salvation, my road to thinness.

    One of my friends tried to tell my mom. I quickly intercepted and turned it into a joke about how I didn’t like the moi moi they served in school. I remember I got fixated on being 65 kg. And once in a while, when I’m feeling particularly down, I get the urge to make myself throw up because it somewhere along the line, I began to associate it with having control over my life. I tell people about my eating disorder so they know it is real, and it is a problem. I’m not particularly “Americanized”, I’m pretty Nigerian, so I know that if it could happen to me, it is probably happening to other people. For a long time I believed I was fat, and I had no idea why I thought so. Many years later, I realized that it was because two boys in my class in JS2 kept teasing me about how fat I was. I wasn’t fat then, just unpopular. So, feeling fat can be a problem in Nigeria and it doesn’t necessarily come from foreign perceptions of beauty. Sometimes the devil is at your doorstep.

  5. Princess Tiana

    I really commend you for writing about this. It is important for Nigerians to be ok with talking about any struggles they may have. I grew up in Nigeria and didnt know about any mental disorders or even challenges like dyslexia and ADHD. And I feel bad for my fellow students who got labelled stupid or slow when they may have been dyslexic. Props to you for giving this a voice.

  6. mpb

    You are such a thought provoking young lady. Nigeria and Nigerians have a long way to go. I am a neurologist here in the states and most of our diseases like epilepsy or even when Zara had MS are never understood either, how much more mental illness. But I strongly believe the internet will change that; twitter, blog posts etc raise awareness and make an impact. Hugs.

  7. mizchif

    That last line from HardlySimilar’s comment, “sometimes the devil is at your doorstep”

    Just yesterday my father looked at me and said “You’re getting fat” To which i replied “Thank you” and he said “I’m telling you you’re adding weight and you’re saying thank you, this is how i was telling your mother when she started her own” Doorstep
    For some perspective i’m a U.S size 6/8.
    Now while i realize that his comment was probably not meant to be malicious, it just reinforced how damaging certain comments can be.
    My dad has always been the most fatphobic person i know. I remember as far back as secondary school when he would call my “chubbier” friends “amorphous” or “rotund”. And how he’d tell some of our female relatives things like “this one you’re adding weight like this better be careful so you can still find a husband”.
    I also remember one time when my sister started starving herself just so she could be skinny and now i wonder if his comments had anything to do with that. Then she’d get so skinny that he’d start telling her she looked sick. Hella confusing.

    Somehow we just don’t see certain things as Nigerian so they will forever remain unacknowledged. Hopefully more people like you speak up.
    Well done.

    • sugabelly

      Wow, that’s so awful. Comments like that can be incredibly damaging. My Mom used to make fat phobic comments like that towards me all day long, and the funny thing was that I was incredibly slim and fit and in shape and she was the one who was overweight at the time.

      She used to be super skinny even after she had me, so I think that she was projecting her own hatred for her new fat body and her fears about weight gain onto me, and it seriously messed up my body image and hurled me headlong into a dangerously dysfunctional relationship with food.

      You’re right. A lot of Nigerians don’t realize how incredibly damaging some of the comments they make are, and even when you try to enlighten them most don’t care.

  8. HoneyDame

    Just like depression, it took a while for me to understand how and why anyone would be anorexic or bulimic. But now, I know better. The other day, I was seriously considering Bulimia after I had to throw up some pastry I ate which just refused to go down and was making me nauseous. After retching, I thought about how much of a win-win it would be if I continued. I could eat ALL that I wanted and just throw up right after. Fortunately for me, I squashed this thought…but I totally get where you are coming from.
    And that line about your sexual abuse…..oh Sugabelly! You have really been through a lot. You are a strong woman! I pray your good wishes for yourself come true!

  9. tega

    U are such a survivor.
    Not only did u have to struggle with bulimia, you were also molested as a child (yes I had to pause & reread that part, a 13 year old has no business with having her pussy eaten).
    U are a strong woman and you are beautiful.
    If blogging about your experiences gives you some release, I’d be glad to read your stories everyday.
    P:s, I like your writing style.

  10. peace

    It’s just Funny to me how you could round all Nigerians up under one umbrella. Accusing ALL Nigerians of this and that, it’s incredibly ignorant, and all that is coming across from ur incredibly important post is self hate due to the ignorant way it was written

  11. kaura

    It’s weird that we claim things like Christianity, but the no mental health is a “thing of the west”. I’ve been dieting since I was 12, I developed early and the attention to my chest and butt, made really uncomfortable, afterwards it was a cycle of dieting and bingeing, either I’m doing a tea diet (drinking only tea and water) for days. I did water “diet” 2 weeks before my prom and almost fainted after. That day is still a blur because I was so light headed. Took me a while to realize that this was disordered thinking. I also had to keep reminding myself fat isn’t the worst thing I could be.

  12. Kay

    Oh My God. Finally someone says something about this in Nigeria. I used to be anorexic at 14 and I was so super skinny. I obsessively checked my weight after every lunch in my high school. I was obsessed with checking my bmi, waist size all because I wanted to be a certain weight and size as a particular celeb. Thankfully, I’m recovering……well not really. I just want to get curvy so I’m trying to eat a lot but I find myself always counting calories. I’m good now tho. Also,you just made me realize I have to stop berating my younger sister for not wanting to eat as little as me. And you are really a strong person to have gone through all these and dare I say you still have a positive outlook on life.

  13. nah

    Sugbelly… as a practising therapist I feel you. Lots of work for you to unpack in therapy ….
    if I can just get you on my couch…
    Alas I’m at the other end of the world …
    Seriously lady please get some professional support if you can
    Big hug and wish you well xx

  14. Meh

    I wish ignorant people would just put a sock in it sometimes.. I schooled in the west and every holiday I went to nigeria I was berated by complete strangers regarding my weight. I have never been larger than a uk 12.. So please mr/ mrs anonymous, chill ehn. I was 15 when all this jazz started. With any luck io will finish my training as a psychiatrist and return to nigeria with the sensitivity to help those who like myself who battled with depression and image issues have no one to talk to. Please keep writing. You are anything but un-nigerian

  15. Somewhat

    Sadly, a lot of complex emotional and psychological conditions are denied in Nigeria. My parents used to call me ‘Somalian refugee’ as a kid, because I was so skinny and unattractive. They weren’t joking – my dad would berate me for looking so haggard. Of course, now its attractive to be slim. But when I was a kid, I was ugly.

  16. recovering

    rily felt better after visiting ur blog . am a recovering anorexic , a nigerian , pple tink it is spiritual pastors praying claiming to see visions lol . was diagnosed last yr nov . parents just say why cant u eat !!!!!. they dont rily understand low self esteem , started when my friends were calling me chubby after each holiday a size eight 4 dat matter . wud
    rily want to meet a therapist.

  17. LaPenseuse

    Sugabelly, thank you for this post! It really hit home with me! Since I was a child, I was always the chubby one, constantly made fun of by almost everyone in the family. Intentionally and unintentionally, they made me feel like I was not good enough. I love food too much to starve myself… lol… so while I was in college I became a workout addict, to the point I was fainting in class from over-exerting myself. All that exercise didn’t make me thin, it made me muscled, which I also got criticized in Nigeria for. People started telling me my arms and legs were becoming too masculine. I definitely attribute some of my self image issues to my experiences in Nigeria, people will never be satisfied.

    I was at my sisters wedding last year and more then ten people stopped me to give me “advice” about my weight (I am a US size 10, by the way, but I am on the busty side). It was so unbearable to be there at that moment. One particular woman (whom I don’t even know) told me that if I don’t “watch it”, I won’t get married like my sister. She then condescendingly told me of how she has two children and still looks like “this”. I felt like slapping her but because we are supposed to respect our elders, I just smiled and walked away from her. I am at my heaviest weight right now, in fact, my bust size went from a steady 36c to a 38e but it doesn’t matter any more. The older I get the more I realize that no one’s opinion matters. If anyone talks crap about my body, I will give them a taste of their own medicine. No more silence for me! People don’t get that everyone cannot look the same.

    Nigerians can be so harsh and insensitive about other people’s bodies, it is appalling. We need to start having this conversation in Nigeria but we’d rather pretend that anorexia and other eating disorders are a foreign thing.

    Sorry for my long epistle, I couldn’t help myself hahaha

  18. anthony

    it really is a silent struggle that is vicious and evil and its more battling for me considering I’m a guy……… I was caught by my elder brother who reported the issue to my family…. I’m 6″2 and I weigh 48kg. I’ve been diagnosed as “grossly underweight” and I’ve been hospitalized a couple of times due to fainting and vomiting blood. tried talking to some peeps about it but they couldn’t understand. they just see it as something I choose and they ignore it so therefore, I suffer in silence. its been hard especially since I’m a guy and they find it sickening that a guy would be into this. I wish I could stop but I just can’t.

    • sugabelly

      Wow, I don’t even understand how it’s possible to be that tall and weight just 48kg. That’s incredible. I totally feel your pain though. Right now I’m overweight and after previous lovers made cruel comments about my body I shut down and stopped responding to male attention. I just shied away from it because I repulse myself when I look in the mirror. The other day I was thinking to myself that I should try being anorexic to regain control over myself. It’s a hard, hard way to live with yourself inside. I know how it feels. You’re beautiful and worthy, and 48 kilos is way too little for someone your height. I know people say “why can’t you just eat” and I know how hard it is for you, but maybe try and tell yourself that with every bite you eat, you’re buying a strong, healthy body that can free you to do the things you really want to do in life.

  19. Zeena

    I have an eating disorder too,its not bullimia,but I understand you. I’ve had this regular increase and decrease in weight more times than I remember, I have stretch marks and I even developed. breathing problem when I was 14. I started restricting meals since I was 10 and i’m 18 now and its worse.
    A Lot of girls in Nigeria have an eating disorder but people don’t believe it cause they assume being “underweight” and “extremely skinny” is the only way to know if you truly have one. I’ve been told I’m an “Oyibo girl that’s watching weight” lol.
    I truly hope someday there’ll be a medium to enlighten people in Nigeria about this.

  20. Koffie

    My experience seems to be the exact opposite of yours, I was always made fun of for being too skinny and you know how they’ll say mean stuff in Yoruba and it stings more. As a child, I just wasn’t aware of my weight. I saw myself beyond my body. It didn’t help that I never quite had any appetite but I swear it wasn’t from a desire to be skinny cos I always like how my chubby friends filled out their clothes better. So to gain weight, I’d eat the weirdest stuff people suggested even when I didn’t like it but I never gained enough weight to stop the comments. Puberty was good as I’m a D cup (hallelujah!) and at some point, I wasn’t the skinniest so they found someone else to pick on. I always wonder when people say they get mean comments for being chubby cos I could have sworn skinny, underweight people have it worse in Nigeria. I still get the mean comments with people suggesting I’m not sexually active and that’s why I’m still skinny 😧
    I remember allowing the words hurt me so much I’d chug down multivitamins just so I’d have an appetite, even when those pills made me nauseous (hello Wellwoman). And the comments about not being a ‘real African woman’ because I’m skinny? Those are pathetic mostly
    I’m glad you’re no longer bulimic


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