Alexandria Marie Fischer, a 20-year-old student at McMaster University, spoke to HuffPost Canada's Chloe Tejada to share her experiences recovering from an eating disorder. This is Alexandria's story.
How the anorexia and bulimia started
When I was in grade 10, I was hit by a careless driver while crossing the street. I suffered injuries to my left leg, which left me in a wheelchair for a couple of months, and then on crutches. I was very athletic; I was involved in dance, badminton, rugby, volleyball, weight training and track. Since I was no longer able to participate in those sports, I decided to start altering my caloric intake. This quickly resulted in an obsession with my eating habits.
Two months after the accident, I was eating a healthy amount for my body frame [roughly 2,000 calories a day]. But it wasn't long until I only cared about food. I would ditch friends to avoid going to places where food would be served. I stopped going to school because I was embarrassed about not eating during lunch.
My character, grades and relationships suffered. I only cared about what I looked like. I had a veil of anorexia and bulimia over my eyes that made me believe the skinnier I got, the prettier and more perfect I would become. But the truth was, every bone in my body was almost visible and I had no friends because I pushed everyone away.
100 calories a day
Six months passed, and my intake dropped to about 100 calories a day, and I would throw up what I wanted but couldn't swallow. I hid everything from my family and I didn't realize how much I hurt them until afterwards. My body began shutting down. I was so deprived of energy that I could barely move. I was depressed. I would fight with family every day because I was so defensive over my sickness and didn't want to come to terms with reality.
Eventually, I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance because my heart almost stopped. I was close to death, and I was so sick that I didn't even care about my mental or physical health.
I had to be attached to a heart monitor and an IV for three months on bed rest. They were the worst three months of my life. I lost control of everything and I was numb. I was admitted into the hospital at 79 pounds and released at 115, still diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia. I watched patients come and go from my shared hospital rooms who actually needed help; most of them were suffering from cancer and I was taking up space from my self-inflicted eating disorders.
I decided then that I would focus on rebuilding myself. I lost almost everything, including my life, and I wouldn't wish anything like it on anyone.
In the hospital
My first morning there was hard. Not only did I wake up with a heart monitor and an IV connected to me, but there was a large plate of cereal, pastry, orange juice and an Ensure (supplement drink) in front of me. I have never seen so much food in front of me at once. I was shocked. My family surrounded me and began to cry awaiting my reaction. Anxiety ran through my body as I thought to myself, "Do I really have to eat this?"
I gave the nurses a tough time by initially not eating. It was my tainted mindset: I was extremely ill, and most of the things I said or did were a result of that. But luckily, I had a very patient nurse who believed in me. She told me that she had dealt with people a lot worse.
At the end of the day, I had two options: I could either try my best to eat what was in front of me and get better, or I could continue to refuse and get a feeding tube shoved down my throat. So, I sacrificed the person I was for the person I wanted to become. In that moment, I saw the pain I caused all the people around me and I made the choice to get better, not only for them, but for myself. I didn't want anyone else to go through what I went through, so I took baby steps toward better health.
I was mostly alone for the three months that I was admitted, so I recorded every meal and how many calories were in it. I never realized that I picked up this bad habit and I couldn't stop, so one of the nurses taught me how to knit to keep me occupied. Soon, I found myself knitting tons of hats for the newborn babies each week. Between knitting hats and watching TV, I was bed-ridden.
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The fight for her life
Anorexia is self-destructive. Every day gets significantly worse, because you are constantly comparing yourself unrealistically to other people; isolating yourself because it's easier than answering questions while putting your own health at risk. Your body isn't used to losing weight rapidly, so it goes into starvation mode and deteriorates your bones and remaining nutrients in the body. I was "slow," constantly cold and severely depressed because my brain was deprived of the basic necessities for survival.
The post-hospitalization process was long. I went to counselling and did routine weight checkups for three months. I can't stress enough how long it took me to comfortably ease back into fitness.
After my accident, I viewed food not as something to enjoy, but a means of survival. I ate foods with certain nutrients that were extremely low in calories: many water-based foods, like cucumbers or celery. I honestly don't know how I was able to live like this.
Now, I eat six times a day, mostly proteins and veggies. I try to stay away from sugary foods and heavy carbs, but I will indulge for my cheat meal!
The journey back to exercise wasn't easy, either. When I first got a taste of weight loss, I wasn't able to stop. I was over-exercising. I would come home from the gym completely exhausted and I wouldn't be able to move for days.
I slowly returned to the gym about eight months after my therapy work, because I made a lot of progress and I was trusted with physical activity. I found this to be a constant battle with control, but once I was able to accept that I won't have control over everything, it became a lot easier. I started to use the gym as a way to de-stress.
Now I'm am training to be in my first competition for bodybuilding and I could not be more excited! I have obtained multiple sponsorships and I am doing lots of fitness modelling on the side. I have also started to design some fitness clothing for some name-brand companies.
How I stay motivated
The hardest adjustment is finding the courage to love myself. It is a very long process.
Every time I get positive feedback, it makes me feel like I am making a positive change and helping one more person with this battle against a societal standard. If I can persuade one person to love themselves and look past this struggle, that makes me happy.
My relationship with my body is much happier now. I have learned to love myself and use what I perceive as my flaws to become a better version of myself. I am grateful to be alive.
Why I share my story on social media
I noticed a lot of people on my social feeds were struggling with eating disorders and mental illness. I wanted them to know that they could have hope.
People never see the whole story on social media. We put out images that are our best, most successful, happiest. I swallowed my pride and chose to be open about my story because no one is 100 per cent OK all the time. We go through hardships and failures. I'm glad that I could turn that around and use it to help people. I don't think that I would have the opportunity to a be a voice for people struggling if I didn't struggle myself.
The advice I would give other people in recovery
Realize that this is temporary and you will get through it. Everyone moves at a different pace, so don't feel discouraged. If you want to get better for yourself, family and friends, reach out for help. This doesn't make you weak, it makes you strong. Once you get through the hardest part, you can achieve anything.
Our actions and incentive to do things comes from our mindset. If someone is having difficulty sticking to their regime, or they can't find the motivation to work out, they need to change something: their routine or their self-care rituals.
Creating a routine is the easiest way to achieve something. Once you get into the habit of eating healthy and exercising, it comes a lot easier. They say it takes two months to develop a routine, and although it will be tricky in the beginning, it will be worth it.
You are beautiful and you have the brightest future ahead, but it's up to you if you want to pursue it. Stay strong.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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