Mental health is a hot topic. The problem? No one really seems to know how to tackle this Goliath-sized issue.
Enter Stephanie, an anorexia recovery advocate. Though she is only 15, this fabulous young lady is utilizing her knowledge of social media, traveling, and photography to inspire her countless fans. Using her Instagram account, Stephanie began documenting her path to recovery by sharing delicious foods she ate and amazing traveling experiences. Soon, Stephanie realized that thousands of people looked up to her.
Today, Stephanie considers herself recovered from anorexia. We caught up with this insightful teen to gain perspective on her experience, and how it can help others heal.
Can you describe your journey in anorexia recovery?
My journey in anorexia recovery started when I was brought to an ED specialist, one of the best in the nation, to help me. However, she did anything but. She never let me know anything, not my weight, blood test results, EKG results, etc. I didn't truly understand and was a bit lost. I wasn't gaining weight, and ended up in the hospital. After my second hospitalization, I switched doctors. With her, I gained enough to go on summer vacation to Hawaii (because to my dismay it was unsafe to go from California to Europe), but continued to lose and hit my lowest weight. This meant that when I got back, I was not cleared to go to school. That summer, I made my Instagram account. I started as a "health account" because I had found some recovery accounts through my personal account and wanted to look into them. I never truly declared myself as an anorexia recovery account but I seemed to slip into the community. Eventually, it became a full-on "recovery account." I slowly gained enough to get permission to go to school, but by then it was too late to complete 10th grade. I then switched to a public school for the year and within that year I got it together. I first gained enough to be cleared to go skiing by eating intuitively. I then became weight restored, and was accepted back into private school on the condition that I redo 10th grade — I obliged. Now, I keep my account to show people that there is a future if you recover. You can do amazing things, like hike in the Swiss Alps!
Those who have never been affected by disordered eating often have a difficult time understanding the mindset. Now that you are recovered, what is (or are) the biggest difference(s) in your mindset between then and now?
While I was in the depths of anorexia, I didn't know what was happening. I knew something was wrong, but I didn't understand that anorexia could be fatal or that recovery was an option. Now, I can see that it is silly not to recover, yet still understand why someone with anorexia would want to not eat. Recovering gives you more control over your own mind.
No one tells you that anorexia is not a choice. To me, it seems that people try to spread awareness about anorexia (example: my health class in middle school), but those who teach it either don't know or do not tell enough. My thoughts while in the eating disorder unit were, "Why would anyone not eat? That's so stupid, I would never be able to do that. Food is too good." I know I was not the only one who thought that.
What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions about people with anorexia?
I think that one of the biggest misconceptions is that anorexia is a choice. If more people were comfortable with talking about mental illnesses, things would be different. No one wants to talk about it. Anorexia is a mental illness, therefore someone with a mental illness is crazy (or so people say).
Your Instagram account features beautiful images of food. Every road to recovery is unique. How do these images aid in your, and your followers', journeys?
I think that having good quality, appetizing images makes my followers actually want to eat it, and therefore inspires them to try new things. For me, when I was mid-recovery, I posted every single one of my meals. This helped because I knew that if I restricted, I would be letting thousands of people down.
Who, or what, has been your greatest inspiration in your road to recovery?
My motivation for recovery was to have a future and be able to do things and have fun. But I also had short-term goals, such as gaining specific increments of weight to be able to go skiing, and then weight restored to be allowed back into my school.
Men are affected by eating disorders as well, but are less likely than women to seek help. If you could tell these men something to help them, what would it be?
I would tell men that they need to be open. Being Mr. Macho all the time will not get you far. It is OK to tell someone how you feel.
Being a teen is difficult in many ways, and adults tend to forget this. Tell our adult audience something that you wish they understood about teenagers.
Adults should put a little more of their trust in teens. Because my parents continued to trust me even when I was ill, I trusted them and their word. If they said I wasn't as giant as an elephant, I (tried to) believe it rather than blowing them off.
Many concerned individuals petition for the removal of Thinspiration and Pro-Ana/Pro-Mia-related Web content. Others cry, "First Amendment allows this!" Do you think that "freedom of speech" has a place in this argument? Why or why not?
This may sound harsh, but I agree that a law is a law. It would be extremely difficult to separate what is OK and what is not if the law were to be changed. However, I do not agree with these kinds of sites because they can trigger a disorder, or harm one's recovery. Filtering these sights (as porn is typically filtered) I believe should be an option. Then parents, or recovering anorectics themselves, can set it up.
Feeling inspired? Follow Stephanie on Instagram!