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“I would have done anything not to gain weight” 

African plus size female standing on scales in bedroom

Eating disorders are not really something that is talked about in Rwanda, maybe it is due because in Rwanda we have a tendency to sugarcoat and also be prude about certain things but I think it is great time that we talk about it.  

What has prompted me to talk about it now is because of a conversation I had with a friend of mine that I had not seen for some time now. This story is about Dushime, for the sake of her privacy per her own request I will only use her last name. 

I have known Dushime for quite some time now, When I first met her she was bubbly and a little bit chubby but not morbidly obese as some used to tell her.  She was growing up like we all were and she had not lost some of her childhood weight as many girls had at the time. 

The thing I remember most about her is her Joie de vivre as the french call it, she used to always have a smile on her face and always extroverted, she was what they call a social butterfly and always trying to spread positive energy or vibes as we call it in these times. 

It had now been about three years since I last saw her, the last time I did she was still the social butterfly, she was still joyful and radiant, she was genuine and she was herself which I used to find very entertaining. 

The first thing I saw when I first laid my eyes on her face is the way it had gotten so slimmer and darker other than that she looked like she had undergone a dramatic weight loss, she looked slimmer everywhere but not the healthy slim the kind of slim that makes you wonder if the person has been seriously ill. 

We talked about many things, reminiscing about our old memories and adventures. We covered what is new in our lives and all other juicy things girls talk about-if you know you know- but I still had something I wanted to ask but I did not know how. 

“You look nice, you have gotten taller.” she told me and I seized my opportunity to ask her my question.

“You have lost so much weight since the last time I saw you.” I said, I did want to hear if it was a normal weight loss or if she had gotten sick. She proceeded to smile but it is that type of smile that hides a sad story behind.

I was curious to know what that story was but I knew better than to just ask since it may come off as an insensitive and inappropriate thing to do or it might seem like prying, so I decided not to ask all the questions I wanted. 

She proceeded to tell me that she did lose a lot of weight and that many people noticed, she told me it was something she had wanted to do for a long time now. 

I then asked her what prompted her to lose so much weight she was barely unrecognizable, apart from her slim figure, she seemed like she had no life left inside of her, she looked like she had a constant gray cloud over her head. “Well it didn’t happen just like that.” she said hesitantly. 

She was no longer the girl I knew back in the day, she had become someone else, someone much calmer. She seemed like she existed, she didn’t seem like she lived at all. 

“I was so insecure about my weight for years and years, and it did not make it better that people were always commenting on how I look so I decided to lose it all.” she said 

She told me how people used to call her obese, even if she was not. How her aunties would say she eats more than her siblings and how her uncles urged her to lose some weight to have a chance of getting a husband. 

She told me how even at school kids used to tell her different comments that would purposely kill her self esteem she became very conscious of her weight. 

“They would say things like ‘you look like a bottle’ ‘you should stop eating too much’ ‘how much do you weigh’ ‘you do not look like girls your age” she said “I think at some point It made me change who I was and it killed myself esteem I hated looking at myself and I hated looking at a scale.” 

The social butterfly that she was, was extinguished with much low self esteem. She hated looking at herself and therefore hated herself. 

“You know how it is in school, people judge everything from the way you look to the way you talk, it was too much and it wasn’t even just at school so I decided to make everyone just stop talking and lose all the weight that seemed to bother everyone else.” she said with a hint of pain in her eyes. 

She decided to start skipping meals and if she did eat when she was not supposed to she would find a way to make it up and those ways were often not healthy. 

She first tried doing some exercise but it seemed she was not getting the results she wanted at the speed she wanted. 

My old friend Dushime quickly began skipping meals in an attempt to stop the insults and lose weight. She quickly became able to survive on nothing but fruit and water for entire days.

She would drink a lot of water before eating solid food thinking that the water will suppress hunger. She started by skipping dinner, which then became skipping dinner and breakfast. She would only eat lunch which to her was just fruit and lemon water. 

“At first it was difficult but I got the hang of it and I started to lose weight and I looked slimmer.” 

As years went on it became more of a habit to her, like a second nature and that is how she ended up developing anorexia, an eating disorder that is characterized by a distorted body image and an irrational fear of being overweight. 

Consequently, this often leads a person to starve themselves and they take action to prevent gaining weight. Typically, this implies throwing up (purging) anything that they eat. 

Dushime confessed that it became part of her life “I would have done anything not to gain weight and I think it is something that I developed overtime.” she said “I was living such an unhealthy lifestyle and at some point I got really depressed and angry and sad. It was a mixture of feelings.” 

This young woman who was failed by society’s standard of beauty then told me how she decided to seek help and get better treatment “After I was hospitalized for the third time I knew I needed to do something.”  She decided to seek a few counseling sessions and after that she decided to seek a nutritionist. 

“I was just tired you know, I reached a point where I just hated life and everything, it was painful and I felt broken.” she confessed 

“And the funny or ironic thing is that people never ceased to make me insecure however I looked, it made me realize that it will never end so why should I care.”  she said. 

“I had to love myself enough not to destroy myself.” she said hopefully I wish. 

Many people fall victim to body shaming. With the influence of different cultures and the media and all sorts of beauty pageants, girls are told there is a certain beauty standard they have to adhere to which results in most cases living like Dushime or sometimes it becomes even worse. 

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