By Rebecca Drew
THIS incredible young woman has been ‘given a new chance at life’ after finally beating the anorexia and bulimia demons that saw her struggle to get out of bed in the morning.
Psychology student, Giannylee Santiago (21) from New York, USA started to restrict food at the age of just 15 as a coping method when her grades were dropping, surviving on just one cereal bar and 473-millilitres of fluids a day. Over time, Giannylee’s anorexia turned into bulimia nervosa where she would binge eat just so she didn’t faint after her three-hour workouts.
At her lowest, Giannylee weighed 8st 12lbs and that’s when she reached out to a counsellor at university for help after realising how her eating disorder was affecting how she viewed her life. After being on a partial hospitalisation programme, Giannylee learnt different coping mechanisms and is now a healthy 11st 4lbs.
“It wasn’t about wanting to be skinny, it was about having control of my life. At the moment I was failing a class, and I didn’t know what to do. I used food as my coping skill. I restricted for a year, then turned to Bulimia Nervosa behaviours,” she said.
“I started restricting breakfast, I would get up ten-minutes before it was time to leave for school. Then I skipped lunch, I would study or do homework assignments during that period, after school I had volleyball practice every day during the first semester and I wouldn’t eat until I got home very late at night.
“Every day was the same routine from Monday to Friday. The weekends were a little bit different, I worked out every morning for three hours and I would binge to not faint.
“I felt numb. My world was foggy. I remember being physically at places but not mentally. I was in my own world. I was stubborn, rude, satirical, and deceptive. I got mad at anyone who told me I needed help.
“After six years of struggling it started affecting the way I looked at life. It interfered with my education, I was not longer getting the perfect grades, I was struggling to even show up and get out of bed.
“My eyes were vivid red from all the popped blood vessels and the headaches were too painful. I drifted from everyone and I was lying to friends and family.
“I reached out to my counsellor here on campus and between her and a nurse, we agree I should receive treatment.”
Choosing to overcome her eating disorder was a challenge but the most difficult thing about Giannylee’s recovery was shutting out the negative thoughts that surfaced every meal time.
“It is a challenge, every single day. You wake up and you have to keep choosing recovery. It is not something that happens overnight. Going to a treatment centre does not cure you,” she added.
“I was on a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) for two admissions, ten-weeks each. I was able to learn a lot of coping mechanisms to deal with the anxiety and being able to refrain from using eating disorder symptoms during or after meals.
“I feel more aware of my surroundings, and myself. Being in intensive treatment for so long I learned to look at things from a different perspective.
“The most difficult part was challenging the negative thoughts. With every meal, the eating disorder thoughts got louder and louder telling me to not nourish my body, telling me how much weight I would be gaining and my entire life would go downhill.
“With every meal there was a lot of anxiety and tears, but I was able to get through it, with the help of the kitchen staff and dietician.
“I have been on this recovery journey for almost a year now, and completely symptom free for six months. I feel like I was given a new chance at life, a healthy life.
“I now appreciate my family, friends and opportunities more. I make sure to let people know how thankful I am and how they mean to me. I make sure to live life to the fullest and do exactly what I want. I no longer listen to any voices and it feels great.”
Giannylee’s family and friends have been her motivation throughout her recovery and she now says she would choose recovery again if she had to.
“You do not have to have physical symptoms to be taken seriously. You could be in a healthy weight range and still struggle with an eating disorder,” she added.
“You are worth it, and you should reach out for help in any conditions. Do not wait until is too late, the consequences could be life long lasting. Recovery is hard but I would do it all over again. It is so worth it.
“I feel like I was given a new chance at life from a healthy perspective and I plan on taking full advantage. You can do it. Follow my Instagram account for motivation or if you need to talk @giasfight. My DM’s are always open.
“I work very closely with my treatment team. It helps me stay accountable. I also got a tattoo on the right side of my body of my favourite mantra, ‘I’m okay, I can do this’ with the NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) symbol as motivation, and it keeps me from body checking.”
For more information see www.instagram.com/giasfight