By Rebecca Drew
Student and dance teacher, Colleen Werner (20) from Long Island, New York, USA started suffering with her eating disorder when she was 14 but struggled with body image when she was much younger, dieting for the first time at the age of ten.
Before her recovery, Colleen would exercise at home and go to the gym as well as dancing for 15 hours a week and restricted her calories and types of food she ate. Colleen stopped weighing herself just under a year ago and doesn’t know her current weight, saying she feels better than she ever did during her eating disorder days.
After seeing the pressures on dancers to fit a particular body shape or size first hand, Colleen has set up a body positive ballerina movement on Instagram under #BoPoBallerina to show that every type of body can be a dancer’s body.
“I first started worrying about my body at eight-years-old and dieted for the first time at ten-years-old. Many things contributed to starting and continuing my eating disorder – influences from the media, pressure in the dance world, family stress, and likely my genetics as well,” said Colleen.
“It’s hard to pinpoint one particular thing that started or continued my eating disorder because eating disorders are so complex. I started recovery at nineteen-years-old, so I was suffering for about five-years.
“I used eating disorder behaviours to numb myself so I wouldn’t have to feel strong emotions like depression and anxiety, however this numbing also meant that I didn’t feel full happiness either.
“I was always hungry, and my thoughts almost constantly revolved around food, my body, and exercise. I was often lightheaded, and there were a few occasions where I fainted.
“I felt very isolated, however I also didn’t think it was a disorder – I thought this was just ‘dieting’ and that I was making myself healthier, when I was really making myself very unhealthy.
“I was sick of being consumed by this disorder. After seeing several recovery accounts on Instagram, I realised that I wasn’t alone, and I also realised that continuing on the path I was on was really harmful.
“I wanted to stop wasting so many years of my life on hating myself and trying to change my body. I wanted to be more – I wanted to find a true purpose.
“My low weight is irrelevant. While some eating disorders do cause dramatic weight loss, eating disorders are mental illnesses. Some of the times where I’ve struggled the most mentally were not when I was at my lowest weight.
“Media coverage of eating disorders focuses far too heavily on the weight aspect of eating disorders, which perpetuates the idea that eating disorders are all about weight, which is completely false, and can also be incredibly triggering.
“I feel so much better about myself now than I ever did during my eating disorder. I’m really working on completely accepting myself for who I am, and I’m realising that who I am is pretty great.
“I’ve discovered so many new things about myself now that I’m no longer drowning in my eating disorder.
“I’m able to be a better friend and a better family member. I’m also able to be a better student since I’m properly fuelling my body and can focus on my schoolwork.”
Colleen now practises intuitive eating and eats all food types in moderation and no longer denies herself the occasional ice cream. Friends and family are proud to see how far she has come and are chuffed that Colleen is now helping others who are in a similar situation as what she once was.
“I want other people who are suffering from eating disorders to know that they aren’t alone, that recovery is possible, and recovery is worth it. You are more than your body, and you are more than your eating disorder,” she added.
“I also want to stress the fact that all eating disorders are valid regardless of your gender, size, or body type. Eating disorders don’t discriminate and eating disorders don’t have a particular look.
“Recovery is scary and difficult, but I promise it is worth it. There is more to life than being confined by an eating disorder, but you can’t reach your full potential when you’re still consumed by the disorder.
“Everyone is really proud of me. They’re especially proud of the important work I’m doing to help others who are struggling with similar issues, and the work I’m doing to help create a world where eating disorders don’t exist.”
For more information see www.instagram.com/leenahlovesherself