‘My life as an Instagram fitness influencer gave me an eating disorder.’

I’ve got a secret. In fact, I’ve got a few, but this one seems the most controversial given the career I’ve created for myself.

It’s confession time.

I’m about to delve into a very personal journey and share photos of my body that genuinely make me cringe, but I want to do this to say ‘Hey, This is the REAL me.’ You deserve to know how I got here, and what I’m all about. Just excuse me whilst I wince my way through the next lot of awkwardness.

I’m The Fit Foodie. I’m supposed to be incredibly fit, and eat all the right things, all of the time.

Here’s the thing though… I did that for a while, and got incredibly sick.

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I know you’re probably thinking ‘Sal, what the hell, how is that even possible?’, but in this world of beautiful imagery, impossibly pretty models and photoshop, I fell victim to social media envy. More specifically, envious of girls with perfect six-packs who demonstrated a level dedication to their exercise and diet that to date, I had simply not been able to reach.

In usual #fitspo style, their photos spurred me into believing that I could do it too, that I could absolutely have a washboard stomach. I was motivated by their words and selfies, and embarked on a gruelling program of exercise and dietary restriction.

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I thought I was doing all the right things. Working out as often as possible- two hours per day, most days, with at least one hour of that as intense cardio. I was constantly strapped into my heart rate monitor checking to see if I had burnt more than the day before.

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Slowly slowly, I began to see some changes in my body. I began to tone up and received compliments from everyone around me. I was now more motivated than ever – so stoked that people cared to tell me how great I was looking. My frame shrunk in about 3 months. I felt light, full of energy and proud. Oh so proud.

Not only was I feeling high from the compliments, but from the endorphins jazzing up my body all the time. I soon started to be more and more conscious of food. My diet was strict, my portions got smaller and smaller, along with my diminishing waistline.

I thought that eating this way would get me to my goal faster. I felt strong and in control. I had power over my body, I could shape it in any way I chose, and I was going to get my abs. They were slowly appearing, and I was just as awesome as all the chicks on Instagram. Right?

Side note: I spent so much time on the cross-trainer that I wore away the fat pad behind my knees, but still, I had abs. That’s all I cared about.

At an unhealthy weight, drained of all energy and struggling to rationalise eating anything more than salad, my periods stopped completely.

"I had abs. That's all I cared about." (Image: Sally O'Neil)

I got where I wanted to be, but I looked waif, and felt low. ALL. THE. TIME. I had to get on top of my uncontrollable weeping, and constant thoughts of food. I couldn’t eat out because I couldn’t accurately calculate how many calories were in my order, and therefore how much I had to burn off at the gym. It was a constant game of maths and food planning, and it was making me miserable.

At my worst, I was burning too many calories a day through exercise alone, and eating too low of an amount. For our bodies to function – breathe, pump our hearts, digest food etc etc we need energy. In essence, my body was in a deficit by a large number of calories every day, and was starting to lose essential function.

I took myself to the GP to discuss my lost periods, and gloated about how healthy I was otherwise. ‘I exercise all the time, eat all the right foods. My sleep isn’t great, but I get up at 5am to get my workout in before work’. The GP was clearly running behind schedule and didn’t have time to tread on eggshells. ‘Stand on the scale’ she said. She quickly concluded ‘you're anorexic. You just need to eat more and stop working out so much…. NEXXXXTTTTT’.

Devastated and shocked, I left crying and hunting for answers on Dr Google. I knew I had a problem with my menstrual cycle and yes, my weight was the lowest it had ever been, but WTF??? A mental health diagnosis couldn’t have been further from my radar.

I couldn’t fathom why the GP had given me so little understanding if that was the case, so decided to seek a second option with a GP who specified in Mental Health. She was incredibly understanding and warm, and clarified that what I was potentially looking at was ‘orthorexia’ – an unhealthy pre-occupation with eating only ‘pure’ foods – rather than trying to lose weight (as in anorexia) which was never my goal. Throw into the mix exercise addiction, and you’ve got one very underweight, miserable gal whose body doesn’t have enough energy to have monthly periods.

HOLY SH*T.

It took me about 12 months of therapy to begin healing my relationship with food an exercise. Four years on, and I still have moments when my relationship with food is out of balance. If I get a stressful email, or I argue with my boyfriend, or something else throws me a curveball, I want something sweet to distract me from dealing with it. It’s not perfect, but I’m a world away from restricting every crumb that goes into my mouth.

I now workout five-six times a week at low-moderate intensity, and…. you guessed it... I don't have abs. Am I sad about that? Honestly, probably a little.

I still want to think I’m chiselled and strong. But I’m no longer prepared to make the sacrifices it takes to get there. I made a choice to have a healthy mind, and the body that comes along with that  – whatever that looks like.

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For me right now, that's a healthy weight, moderately toned woman, who eats whole foods and the occasional treat. I wouldn’t trade that in for the stuff the I went through. That may mean I’m not as appealing on Instagram – there are less gym selfies and I’m perhaps not as ‘sexy’ or ‘motivating’, or ‘dedicated’ to the naked eye. But I am healthy.  I hope that that in itself motivates people. I hope the work I do shows dedication to my career AND to a balanced lifestyle, and I hope most of all that this *very awkward* share inspires you to share who you really are with the world.

For any girl who’s ever dreamed of having abs, I can promise you they don’t make you feel better about yourself.

For a fleeting moment you feel like you won, and then….nothing. It’s just like having a big toe. It’s there, and you know it is, but it doesn’t serve a higher purpose than that. I found out the hard way that manipulating your body shape is not the road to happiness.

Sally O’Neil is a Master Juggler of three businesses - social influencer, photographer and entrepreneur. Find her main blog at www.the-fit-foodie.com, where she creates whole food recipes for busy women, or follow her on Instagram

This article was originally posted on The Fit Foodie and has been republished with full permission.

If you need help or support for an eating disorder or body image issue, please call Butterfly's National Helpline on 1800 334 673 or e-mail [email protected]

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