Hey, Beautiful: These Very Words Saved Me from Anorexia

In times of uncertainty, anything can easily become a trigger that sends us spiralling down into the abyss of negativity. Discover how a solid mindfulness practice can lift you back up on your feet.

By | January 15, 2021

Something was eating away slowly inside of me right before Mars went into retrograde—the big planetary shift in the skies that mirrors the collective angst and personal anxieties down here on Earth. It hit me hard, giving rise to many past issues that needed to be addressed. ⁣

The shadows that descended⁣ were ghouls who shrieked: ⁣

You are not worthy of this⁣.

You are not good enough⁣.

I am often assailed by these critical voices and anxiety. ⁣The critical voices would chatter away, killing me rapidly with egocentric ballast. ⁣It is important for me to acknowledge these shadows.⁣ I knew them very well once upon a time⁣.

The night when I was assailed by my past and decided to perform a ritual to let it all go.

I had let them break me down and ravage my skin and bones many years before.⁣ Not enough was the modus operandi.⁣ I struggled. I flailed about when I reached out and was met with silence.⁣

But in looking for external approval, the descent into misery only spiralled deeper, further into the abyss.⁣ 

And then I found the Way out of this life once and for all. These critical voices stay away when I sit with tea as a daily meditative practice.⁣ In this simple practice, I simply have loose tea leaves and my sturdy teapot and kettle, and a bowl. I then honour tea in a tea ceremony with reverent silence that allows me to return to my true nature with the teachings of Cha Dao and Zen. 

In fear’s lingering gaze, tea never falters. ⁣Master Lin, one of my tea teachers, says to let tea purify me back to the beginning⁣.

Tea purifies and amplifies the heart centre’s electromagnetic field. I continue to show up as the vessel for Tea Spirit, in empty rooms and a packed space alike, to serve and share and relish in this sweet taste of nothingness.⁣

It all begins with mindfulness

For the rest of the world, if you do not have a daily meditative practice into which you can root, are struggling to even see one beautiful side of you, I am here to tell you, you are beautiful. Try saying that to yourself. Feeling ridiculous? Before you click away, please let me say this to you: Everything we want to accomplish is possible. How many times have we brought ourselves down, self-imposing hurdles that would ultimately inhibit us from reaching our fullest potential? Take it from me, a thirty-something woman who had spent her entire life hating her body and appearance, who had thought perfection was the way of life, and had consequently spent years battering and haranguing herself so much that she would not even take a glance at herself in the mirror, and seriously believing that she was made of pure bad luck, hence leading to a battle with anorexia and body dysmorphia. 

I am recovering now from these disorderly thoughts, and it all began with the admission that there is beauty in imperfection. Author and shame researcher Brene Brown practically saved my life. Her books explore the idea of vulnerability, of how much fear humans have for imperfection, how we strive to be extraordinary in order to be acknowledged and loved. I have spent most of my childhood and adolescence striving for approval from my parents, teachers and friends—and I stand for thousands perhaps millions of others who feel that acknowledgement from another person is the only validation of our self-worth. 

After so many years of trying to “gain control” of my body, I realised that true beauty stems from true self-satisfaction. Understanding and embracing our own uniqueness is a lifelong journey, but when you truly understand how much of it is within our own hands, you can be so empowered that anything is possible. Nutritionist and best-selling author Kimberly Snyder has written extensively about how our self-talk is so crucial in the outward manifestations, and this include appearance and comportment. Whatever you are repeatedly saying to yourself and others ultimately plants the seeds for your self-image, and trust me, your emotions and thoughts all project an energy that others can feel.

Whether you are on a weight loss journey or recovery from an eating disorder, you are helping yourself immensely along the way when you are able to speak to yourself with kindness and love.

The mandala I created for the night of Mabon to set all my past free.

What exactly is self-love?

Love for ourselves cannot be mistaken for narcissism. Love for ourselves is about true satisfaction, the kind of satisfaction that aligns our body, mind, and soul. True satisfaction in ourselves stems from within. I have struggled with negative body image for a long time, and still do on the odd day, but the most important thing is how quickly we can draw ourselves back up. We meet ego with self-compassion, and say, “you are here, ego. I acknowledge all that negativity you are floating to me, but I love myself enough to say, I love me, unconditionally”, no matter if I have a kangaroo pouch, or if I have bulging veins on the back of my hands, or if I have no thigh gap. We all compare ourselves to someone else’s standards, and even in some cases, our own impossible standards. Social media has somewhat blown up the scale and pressure of this need—simply looking at the way the demand for plastic surgery has gone up so substantially gives a very good indication on how our physical dissatisfaction has so affected us all. Brene Brown once wrote: “When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.” 

I dropped to 34kg at the lowest point of my eating disorder, and I still thought I was highly unattractive, overweight and undeserving of love. After numerous trips to the nutritionist for IV drips and hormonal jabs, it turned out that what truly could save me was therapy—hypnotherapy, to be exact. I stopped seeing the nutritionist because of the hormonal treatments and pills she had chosen to put me on. I wanted to heal in a more natural manner, and besides, the external hormones were driving me stark raving mad—think intense hunger and bloating, extreme mood swings and a sense of loss.

Beauty is constantly vibrating within us. All we need to understand and master is the art of realising our true potential.

It begins with compassion and kindness, for ourselves first.

Learning to eat right was only the tip of the iceberg. Society has conditioned us to count calories and obsess over macro and micro nutrients, or look for easy ways to “hack” our bodies, but what we so often overlook is that eating is only the beginning of our journey to realising our true beauty. Six years later, thinking I had overcome anorexia, I found myself tipping into another eating disorder. What shook me and woke me up? It was simply the culmination of my mindfulness practice, which in its many beautiful manifestations, entails observation of one’s thoughts without judgement, and constant self-talk.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Forgive yourself and set your past free.

When I opened up to therapy—and I was a disbeliever at the very outset, only to finally open up after several sessions—I cried. I heaved and sobbed, I cried for the neglected inner child who sought so hard to be loved and understood. I cried for that inner child who needed to be given a hug by me, me, no one but me. I remember that session so well, when my hypnotherapist Kate told me: “Give her a hug, and tell her you love her.”

  1. It is okay to not be okay.

We are so afraid to make a wrong turn in life, or even a small admission to ignorance about a certain skill set at work or school. When we openly admit to our own imperfections, we are inadvertently letting go of so much fear that it will then open up a whole new world of opportunities for you. Trust me, it will.

  1. Breathe.

How many of us truly breathe? When we take a deep inhale that goes deep into the pit of our stomach and distends the belly, that is when you know you are breathing right. When in moments of doubt and distress, I always find it so helpful to take slow deep breaths as it really centres the mind and bring my thoughts together. 

  1. Gratitude journal.

You might have heard of mindfulness and gratitude from many successful people, such as Tim Ferriss and Tony Robbins, who champions “gratitude walks”, during which you count your blessings, no matter how small and seemingly redundant (they are not!). Daily practice of this has helped me to appreciate the here and now, and the most remarkable thing to happen is how positive I feel every day, even in tough situations. I would find myself taking in a deep breath and gazing up at the skyline, so thankful for being simply, so alive. And when we learn to be grateful for all our bodily functions—how our bodies wake up full of life every morning, how our feet take us from one point to the next, how our appetite dictates what we eat and when we eat—we can truly learn to listen to our body and become intuitively strong.

  1. Compassion—for us, and the rest of the world.

There will always be naysayers, no matter if we are doing good for the world. What can make us stand strong is a conviction that we can cultivate from meditation, during which we can observe our thoughts without judgement. In effect, we are practising to view everything impartially. We find ourselves looking at situations with compassion, so even when we are confronted by negative energy (think angry, disgruntled people), we are able to empathise with them and say, okay, they are probably going through a rough time, what they say to me has nothing to do with my self as a whole. Remember that we are what we think we are, not someone else’s caricature.

When we understand and accept that everything is constant, and remain grateful for life, our brains start to recalibrate and raise our vibration, so even when hardship occurs, we have the mental strength to ward off negative energy. I personally have and continue to learn and grow through this amazing practice.

By accepting that the body is ever changing, our brains click. It is remarkable when we truly accept the present self, for we will finally live in the present, be present, instead of letting our obsessive mindset go on and on about our next meal prep, next gym session, next meet and what to do with food served at that birthday party that we have to attend. 

Society may have a distorted picture of perfection and beauty, and we can all lament that fact endlessly, but if we can find equanimity and approval within, we are no longer affected by extraneous circumstances. We know we are unconditionally beautiful. Let’s rise together to that vibration level. Let’s reach out and lift each other up. As Kelly Yu sings, “when your body doesn’t do or look the way you think it ‘should’? We just have to try being softer with ourselves. That is the only ‘should’ that really matters.”

LiYing Lim

LiYing Lim

LiYing Lim is a Tea Ceremony practitioner and keeper of the ancient practice of Cha Dao. She also does healing work for disordered eating through body-spirit connection. Her offerings can be found through www.whenstillwatersspeak.com She was previously the Beauty Editor of Harper's Bazaar Malaysia and Senior Digital Content Manager at South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.