You may or may not know that 23rd Feb to 1 March 2015 was Eating Disorder Awareness Week. This is an international awareness event, fighting the myths and misunderstandings that surround anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and EDNOS.
We thought it would be fitting, therefore, to share with you one Healthy Selfier’s journey over the past 7 months to recovery. Obviously the transformation started well before Healthy Selfie was launched in the App Store, but here she tells us why she thinks selfies can be an incredibly positive aid in peoples’ journeys back to good health… Completely in contradiction to what we are constantly told by the Media who, quite frankly, think the Selfie is the Devil!
A very refreshing and honest account from someone (who prefers to remain anonymous) who has had an incredibly inspirational lifestyle turnaround after falling into the grips of anorexia at 14 years old.
Can you tell us a bit about your story?
Before my eating disorder really started, I had no idea about nutrition and how to go about living a healthy lifestyle – I just ate like any other 13 year old. It was at around 14 I really got into healthy eating because I wanted to lose weight. (I realise now that at that age girls should NOT be worrying about their weight and trying to get “slim”. It shocks me now hearing girls that age, and younger, saying they need to lose weight!)
My friend was a synchronised swimmer and she was so toned, I wanted to look just like her! I joined a fitness club at school, got quite strong and pretty toned; I looked good. But it became obsessive: my “healthy” eating got so restrictive I was living off salads and fruit. I exercised every day, to the point of collapsing. I ate less and less, thinking that was the key to being healthy, but I was so wrong.
It took time for the weight to come off, and these habits continued on until I was 16. By this time, I was skipping meals, making the excuse that I was going out with friends but really I was just spending time walking around on my own FANTASISING about food. At this point, I wouldn’t even allow myself to eat fruit anymore because the amount of sugar in it was “unhealthy”.
I knew my behaviours were wrong but I just couldn’t bring myself to snap out of it. When I looked in the mirror all I saw was fat, but in actual fact, my ribs were sticking out more than my stomach. I couldn’t sit on the chairs at school because it was too painful, even my bed was uncomfortable and I had no sleep most nights as a direct result. I hit my worst last year, during my first year of sixth form. My teachers were so worried about me they were phoning my mum, and eventually I was taken to the doctor. They did a blood test and when the results came back I was told that if I carried on the way I was for much longer, I’d be admitted to hospital. I was diagnosed with anorexia. That really shocked me, because I didn’t feel like anything was wrong with me. But a part of me felt proud, like I’d actually succeeded in making myself thin, but that still wasn’t thin enough.
What was the turning point for you to start your quest back to a healthy lifestyle?
I thought about what I wanted to be like before my eating disorder took a hold of me. I wanted to be strong and muscular, toned and fit. I was nowhere near that. I couldn’t even pick up a 4kg weight at the age of 16. When I was 14 and doing fitness clubs at school I was doing 8kg kettle bell swings, 25kg squats, along with so much else! (I know that doesn’t sound a lot, but at the time it was pretty good going!)
I made a recovery account on Instagram and followed people in the same position as me but who WANTED to recover, as well as loads of fitness accounts that advocated eating 2000+ calories a day. I really wanted to join a gym so I could actually get the body I wanted, but I wasn’t allowed to until I’d got my weight back up. So I used that as my motivation.
Since being at the gym I’ve gained an extra 5kg more than what I needed to to be considered “healthy”, and I’m okay with that. What makes me happy is seeing the weights go up, and my strength increasing. Some days were hard, and some still are. Some days I look in the mirror and hate what I see, some days I feel more confident than I’ve ever been. I like to think I’ve got a more balanced lifestyle now; I can eat healthily and go to the gym, but if a friend asks if I want to grab a takeaway and it means missing a workout, I don’t feel guilty about it! You never really “recover” from an eating disorder. Yes, you get back to a healthy weight, but that voice is still there. It just gets quieter the more you ignore it.
You recently joined Healthy Selfie and shared quite a dramatic transformation that has proved to be, quite rightly, extremely inspirational – why do you think the App is a good platform for people looking to lead a healthy lifestyle?
I don’t think the mirror gives you a true representation of what you really look like. Taking a photo and comparing it really helps you to see the differences. The Healthy Selfie App is full of so many people on completely different journeys – whether it’s gaining weight or losing it – but everyone is really supportive! I love that the App lets you see how far you’ve come too.
There has recently been a lot of negative press about the dangers the ‘Selfie’ can bring for young women suffering with eating disorders. What’s your opinion?
I think selfies are a great idea, especially for people with eating disorders. When you look in the mirror after gaining weight and getting back to being healthy, sometimes people feel disgusted with themselves, about how much weight they’ve put on, in such a small amount of time too.
Having encouragement really helps too. There’s always someone that will say that you’re “fat” now, but that small handful of people are completely outweighed by everyone congratulating you! Posting my selfies really helped because it’s nice to hear someone else’s opinion, other than the one in your head telling you to lose weight and get back to being tiny again. It really helps to motivate and inspire other people too, and I think that’s key when you are in recovery. If you have no inspiration or motivation to recover, you never will.
You’ve set an incredible example for other young girls, what would your advice be to people that may currently be in the position you were 7 months ago.
A lot of people would probably say get professional help, but as I recovered mainly on my own then I can’t really stand by that. For me, finding motivation and inspiration really helped. If you know your eating is disordered, or you’re extremely obsessed with exercising to lose weight, then talk to someone. It’s really nothing to be ashamed of.
Make yourself a recovery account, on Instagram or Healthy Selfie. Follow people that have been in the same position as you and made it out to the other side. Think about the things you won’t be able to have if you let your eating disorder continue. Find something to motivate you to recover. It doesn’t need to be being able to go to the gym, it could be something like being able to have a family, or being able to go to university, or travel!
If you want something bad enough, then you won’t let your eating disorder stand in your way. AND think of all the amazing food you’re depriving yourself of! My new motto is food isn’t just fuel, it’s for the soul. It took you months to lose all the weight, you won’t become obese from a cookie or two! Being healthy is all about balance, not just eating low calorie salads and superfoods for every meal of the day.
Finally, what do you like about Healthy Selfie as opposed to other similar social networks, such as Instagram?
I think Healthy Selfie is a great app. It’s tailored specifically for people who are trying to live a healthy lifestyle, unlike other platforms. It’s got dates on the photos you post, so it’s easier to keep track of your progress, and I find that really motivating! You don’t realise how much your body changes just by looking in the mirror every day.
I also love how everyone is so supportive, unlike on Instagram you will always be “too fat”, “too thin”, “too muscular” or “not muscular enough” for someone’s liking.
I find it really inspiring seeing other people’s journeys too, even if they’re not following the same path as me. It shows their dedication, and it makes me think, “if they can do it, I can too!”
So for any sceptics out there who may think that either;
I think this firsthand account will make you consider otherwise.
For anyone who’d like to get involved with the Beat (Beat Eating Disorders) Charity – take a look at their website here which shows you how you can donate.