By Alyce Collins
THIS BALLET dancer labelled her anorexia a demon that made her exercise for TEN HOURS A DAY making her face GAUNT and her skin GREY to the point where she was relying on caffeine pills and nine cups of coffee just to get through the day.
Teaching assistant, Megan Brewer (22) from Lincoln, United Kingdom, aspired to tour the world with a professional dance company while she studied at dance school, before her health deteriorated as she battled anorexia.
Megan grew up part of a health-conscious family who would often workout and rarely indulged in unhealthy foods. When she was younger, Megan took part in ballet, tap, modern and jazz classes, and while at dance school she did ballet and contemporary dance.
Since eight years old, Megan started obsessing over her measurements for dance costumes, wanting to be the smallest possible size. As she was growing up, Megan was always conscious of calories and would regularly cry at her own reflection.
Megan joined dance school at 18, but by her third year, Megan would work out for up to 10 hours a day by going to the gym at least once a day, doing two yoga classes, a HIIT class, running once a week and training for a marathon, all on top of dancing.
The turning point came when Megan realised she’d developed a phobia of food, and seeing her dad cry at the sight of her skeletal frame.
After seeking treatment and moderating her exercise, Megan hopes to show others that they aren’t alone and being ill isn’t their fault as she calls anorexia her ‘demon’. Now, Megan plays for Lambeth Allstars FC which has helped her find the social side of sport, going from 5st 9lbs to 8st 6lbs.
“We as a family were always very busy with our own commitments, such as dance and music classes,” said Megan.
“Both my parents are very into exercise and healthy living, which I learnt and took to the extreme. I remember being fussy over unhealthy food from a young age, such as not eating chips or pizza. I’d say I didn’t like them, so I wouldn’t have to eat them.
“I would obsess over measurements when I was with my dance friends, like getting measured for costumes and character skirts. It felt like a competition to be the smallest.
“I was very conscious of my body since the age of eight. Growing up I did it all – ballet, tap, modern and jazz.
“The traffic light symbols on packets would particularly catch me eye and I’d stay away from anything marked red. I was always conscious of my body and I’d cry at my own reflection. I also joined a gym at 15, which I would use if I was upset.
“Around this time, I would do secret workouts before bed to work on defining my six pack and obsessing over my measurements. I’d do endless amounts of sit-ups, press-ups and workout routines that I’d learnt from dancing.
“I was always the sporty, healthy one and being naturally petite, I was known as ‘little Megs’. Little did I know that nickname would later be taken to the extreme.
“When I entered dance college at 18, the dance world stereotypes became my reality and I slowly began to slip into unhealthy eating disorder related behaviours. We danced every day, taking part in technique classes, choreography, performances and rehearsals.
“In my second year, I developed anxiety and depression due to the high pressures of dance school and living in London. As well as my dance training I was also training for half marathons.
“I’d be overly conscious while eating salads, exercising more and I noticed some weight loss. My confidence also took a blow due to the pressure and unenjoyment of the year itself.
“In my third year my behaviours became extreme because I was doing up to 10 hours of exercise a day and rapidly losing more weight. My lunch was often a few rice cakes, spinach and celery sticks, then for dinner it would be a salad. I’d rely on protein shakes to keep me going.
“At this point, in my final year, I was praised for my physique and weight loss. I still looking very muscular and toned but I had no body fat.
“In the dance world I looked good, you could see my lines and muscle tone – I looked strong. When I stopped dancing though, I lost all the muscle tone and began to look skeletal by which point everyone became worried.”
When Megan left dance school in 2017, her exercise regime changed drastically because she was no longer exercising for an entire day. As a result, Megan began punishing herself and depriving herself of food.
“I wasn’t doing anywhere near as much exercise when I left, so I felt like I didn’t deserve food. I only ate lean protein and low carb vegetables,” said Megan.
“I didn’t have the luxury of a free gym and hours of dance class to attend so I ate less to compensate for the lack of exercise. I was living on a diet of salad, fish and hard-boiled eggs.
“When I began working as a teaching assistant, I would walk three miles to school and rely on caffeine for energy throughout the day. I’d take Pro Plus and drink up to nine cups of coffee.
“My intense fear of food became a phobia and I stopped socialising and drinking because I was afraid of food and calories, and that also took time away from exercising. When I began working in the school, I would have heart palpitations, felt faint and fell over a lot.
“When I went home for the weekend, at my lowest weight, my dad cried at how small I was. He picked me up from the station and was shocked by my skinny legs, gaunt face and grey skin.”
In September 2017, Megan began treatment for her anorexia and she now has a healthy relationship with both food and exercise.
Megan wants to show others that anorexia doesn’t centre around weight because it’s the mindset which is so detrimental, as she highlights that more needs to be done to help people recognise those who are suffering.
“At first I was an outpatient but that didn’t work so I was offered day-care which was five days a week, and we had meals and a variety of therapy groups,” said Megan.
“There was a great team of staff consisting of a consultant, nurses, dietician, occupational therapists and counsellors.
“I’d created all these rules around eating and couldn’t break that cycle but now I see everything is okay in moderation.
“In regard to exercise, football really helped me, and it changed my perspective. I joined a team when I could exercise, and it taught me how to work as a team and it kept exercise moderated.
“I realised that looking ripped isn’t maintainable and doesn’t make you a better person. Before, I could never stand up for myself, but now I can because I know I’m just as important as anyone else and I don’t need an eating disorder to make me special.
“Eating disorders aren’t about weight. Yes, I fit the stereotype of anorexia, but you can have the mindset and not the body. People need to get educated so they can support others. It is a mindset and food and weight are just a symptom of how much you’re controlled by your inner voices.
“I always saw it as something was that controlling me, and I called it my demon.”