By Rebecca Drew
THIS YOUNG woman has beaten her anorexia that made her want ‘to die’ as she became so fixated on her athletic ability as a figure skater that she wouldn’t eat anything unless she knew its exact calorie content and lost four-stone in a year but says that recovery has helped her restart her life.
Growing up, restaurant supervisor, Demi Alexia (20) from Hampshire, UK, loved sports and wanted to be the best at everything she did and was a keen dancer and runner as well as an accomplished figure skater, which she trained for every morning.
In college Demi became increasingly fixated on her athletic ability, became vegan and started to train for longer. Before long she wouldn’t consume anything unless she knew its exact calorie value so that she could burn it off in the same day and feared fats, oils and carbs to the point where she would mainly survive on liquids; black coffee for breakfast; a sachet cup soup for lunch and a dinner of either two eggs or sweet potato.
Coupled with the stress of her A-Levels, 5ft 9in Demi started to see food and exercise as the only things in her life she could control and in just a year she lost four-stone to weigh 5st 12lb. With no energy to do anything, getting out of bed was a chore for her and Demi felt like she wanted to die.
In summer after completing college, Demi’s parents took her to the doctor who put her on anti-depressants and referred her to an eating disorder service where she was referred to an inpatient stay for six months where she went hoping that she would be able to get better.
During this time Demi was reluctant to eat but was fed through a NG feeding tube when she refused to comply with her treatment but gradually as she started to gain weight, she realised that she wanted to live and have a fulfilled life like she did before she was poorly.
After being discharged from hospital she was then treated as an outpatient for another six months and was officially discharged last week. Now 9st and a size eight, Demi says that choosing to recover has given her a new chance at life and she is now thriving at work and is able to go out with her friends like any other 20-year-old.
“Sport was my life and I wanted to be the best at everything I did, some called me a perfectionist. I fixated more and more on my athletic ability and fitness and I became vegan and started training harder and longer,” said Demi.
“I would not consume anything unless I knew exactly how many calories were in it and if I had the time to burn it off later that day. I became obsessed with counting calories and as my mental health deteriorated with the stress of exams and ongoing depression I found that losing weight was my only form of control when everything else around me started to fall apart.
“For the majority of the time I felt nothing, I was numb, I had no energy, walking up the stairs and getting out of bed was a chore. The only time my mood fluctuated was when I was riddled with anxiety any time someone placed food in front of me, at this point in my life I wanted to die.
“I was at my lowest point. The summer after my family sent me to a doctor who put me on anti-depressants and referred me to an eating disorders service in which I was referred to an inpatient stay, I went willingly in the hope something would change.
“My stay in inpatient showed me a lot. I was so reluctant to eat, to the point where I was fed through a tube. I knew that either way whether I refused or complied I would have to eat. As I gained weight and my cognitive function grew stronger, I knew that I didn’t want to live like this anymore.
“With me they caught it fast, I knew a life before my eating disorder, I had something to strive for and something to get back to. It didn’t come overnight, I was in day care for six months, inpatient another six and then back to day care, I have been in services for three years.
“Only last week did I say my final goodbye to the team who took care of me all this time, especially my therapist. I am so grateful and fortunate to live somewhere with such an amazing team of people.
“After inpatient it wasn’t a straight line to recovery, a lot of the time I wanted to fall back into my old habits and lose weight again. It takes a long time after weight restoration to feel settled in your new body. I still experience self-hate from time to time about my body, but I know this body is capable of working all day, going out with my friends and dancing all night without feeling like it’ll pass out.
“It gave me this promotion at work, it made me have the confidence to find love and make new memories with my amazing boyfriend. I have relationships and have reconnected with my best friends and my family without them having to constantly worry whether I have eaten today or have snuck off to exercise in our garage. All of those things make it entirely worth it.”
Demi says that she is so much more at peace with herself now and isn’t as critical of her self-image anymore and although there are moments when she does criticise her body, she no longer lets her eating disorder control her and is focused on looking after herself and being kind to others.
Demi explained how at first she struggled with the positive comments she received for her appearance whilst she was recovering.
“I wouldn’t say I ever ‘overcame’ it. I still live with my eating disorder but that’s the difference. I don’t suffer from it, it doesn’t control me, I just live with it, but I am living my best life,” she said.
“The majority of my recovery I didn’t want to recover, especially being in an inpatient environment with 12 other patients who were suffering from the same illness I picked up a lot of unhealthy habits and acts such as how to hide food and exercise regimes and behaviours at the table which I took home with me. There was always something.
“Recovering was probably one of the hardest choices I ever had to make, but I am so happy I kept at it and didn’t relapse, despite how easy it could have been to do so.
“At first I got a lot of, ‘you look so well’ and, ‘you’ve gained so much weight’. At first, I couldn’t stand hearing those phrases. It made me feel lazy and disgusting that I had thrown away all that effort into losing weight in the first place.
“I now know they were never trying to insult me or cause offense. They were probably relieved, they wanted to make me feel proud of myself. There is nothing wrong with ‘looking well’ or gaining weight.
“They were just happy to have the real me back, not the lying, anorexia driven girl I was before, I was unrecognisable, I’d much rather be well.”
Finally, Demi shared her words of advice to others who might be struggling with an eating disorder.
“The most important thing to remember is you are not your illness, you do have a purpose and a life that is away from your eating disorder,” said Demi.
“For ages I thought that once I was recovered I would still be just as miserable and sick mentally but just at a healthy weight, that no one would care because I’d appear ‘well’. The support doesn’t stop once you’ve maintained a healthy weight, people don’t just give up on you.
“With weight gain came the ability to restart my life and make choices about what I wanted to do, I had this newfound energy in which I feel I could now recreate myself and create a life away from the disorder.
“Set a goal, make a list of reasons to recover, even if it’s the smallest thing like having a bath without coming out in bruises or being able to lie in the sun without being freezing or covering yourself in massive items of clothing.
“You can be happy again, you just need to let go of the thing that’s trying to kill you, your eating disorder isn’t your friend, it doesn’t provide safety or control.
“The only way to take control is to kill it before it kills you. It won’t stop until you’re dead, try recovery, if it’s really that bad then at least you tried. But everyone I know who has managed to recover and win this battle would never go back.”
For more information see www.instagram.com/demxia