How I Battled My Demons and Overcame an Eating Disorder

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Eating disorder recovery
Photo: Courtesy of @jax_fanucci

I often find it difficult deciding where to start my story, because it’s been never ending with so many twists, detours, and turns along the way. I suppose the best way to begin any story is from the beginning. I grew up on the island of Mauritius, and from a young age my brother and I were incredibly sports orientated and active. Mauritius was a simple place, and vanity had no place on the island. Life was about racing to the top of the coconut tree – not how you look in those size 0 skinny jeans. We didn’t even have clothing sizes!

Fast forward 11 years, and we moved to Dubai. High school was incredibly transitional and tough for me (as it is for any teenager), but luckily, competitive swimming helped keep me grounded by providing me with that sense of discipline – which came from 4 a.m. training sessions before school followed by two-hour training sessions after school. When any athlete overdoes it, injuries happen – and repetitive stress on my shoulder caused an injury that I wasn’t able to come back from. That marked the end of my swimming career. The problem? My appetite was still there. I had become so used to consuming 3,000 calories a day to fuel my intense training regime.

When I turned 15, my parents went through a rough divorce. By this time, I was being bullied at school for being overweight and my self-esteem was at an all-time low. I turned to comfort eating to hide the pain. My home didn’t feel safe and warm, and school was a nightmare. The result? Pizza Hut delivery was bae and large sizes in Bershka, American Eagle, and Forever 21 no longer fitted me (which I discovered on the days I was brave enough to venture into the changing room). However, the real shift occurred when I asked my parents for workout clothes – even though, at that point, I didn’t work out at all. The response was, “Prove to us that you’re committed to the gym every day for two weeks and then we can talk”. “GAME ON!” I thought. That’s when my journey really began.

recovery eating disorder
Photo: Courtesy of Tanja Heffner

In order to save money and to really commit, I became a personal trainer through an online course and decided to use myself as my first client. At this point, I was 40 kilograms heavier (from all the mozzarella sticks and large stuffed-crust Hawaiian pizzas), so I took on the challenge. I began jogging every day and the weight slowly fell off. My family and neighbors started commenting on my weight loss, and people around me were noticing. At this time, I had zero friends – so there was no input there.

School had become worse along with the divorce, but that little bit of accomplishment I felt every time someone noticed my weight loss became addictive. I lived for the ego boost. Now I was 17 and in my last year of school, which had become so bad that I stopped attending classes and studied from home. Every second of my time was spent researching food, nutrition, and extreme weight-loss programs.

The scary thing about an eating disorder is that you truly believe you’re in full control… You have no idea that this is the disease controlling you.

One thing you should know is that I am an extremist. If I’m not swimming four hours a day, then by George I’ll commit to three large pizzas a day. At the age of 19, I was running 10 km every day and surviving only on fruit. I had become so heavily reliant on the escapism provided through my weight-loss obsession; all that mattered in my life was the size of my jeans. The scary thing about an eating disorder is that you truly believe you’re in full control and executing such severe discipline by being able to eat only 400 calories a day whilst burning 3,000. You have no idea that this is the disease controlling you.

By 23, I was at the height of my disorder. I was running 15km every day and hadn’t taken one day off (even during bouts of severe food poisoning and a fractured hip) over the span of four years. Two stress fractures in my hip from weak and brittle bones made jogging excruciating, but nothing was as bad as the thought of not running. On days when I needed a “cheat meal” (which was a handful of almonds and a banana), I’d be sure to throw it up after the satisfaction of swallowing the food. My hair began falling out, my ribs broke when I was given a bear hug, and let’s not talk about the state of my teeth.

I realized the selfishness of my actions. It wasn’t me that would suffer in the end; it would be my mother.

Being too weak and frail to do anything, I spent the majority of my time locked away in my room – until the day that changed my life. My mother dragged me to a psychiatrist (I tried to bolt twice in the doctor’s office – like a kid at the dentist or a dog at the vet that knows it’s getting the snip), but with a failing kidney and liver, I was at a crossroads in my life. I still remember the pain in my mother’s face when she took my hand and said to me, “Jax, my love – I will carry you through this and I will fight every step of the way for you.” The words didn’t resonate much through the cloud of fog in my mind, but the pain in her voice and her eyes, watching her eldest child slowly die, was something I’ll never be able to forget. I realized the selfishness of my actions. It wasn’t me that would suffer in the end; it would be my mother.

So, I put one foot in front of the other and ventured into the doctor’s office. The psychiatrist prescribed me Xanax and Prozac to practically dull everything in my body so that I could focus on keeping meals down and teach myself to re-digest food again. My mother would come home from work every day to sit with me while I ate, and 45 minutes after to make sure the food stayed down (thanks to the medication, I was as chill as a cucumber).

I was incredibly frail and weak from jogging, but finally I was keeping food down for the first time in four years. My mother had heard about this thing called yoga, which was said to be good for the body and mind. I thought, “Over my dead body will I sit twiddling my thumbs for an hour!” I was used to marathon-length running and four-hour hardcore training sessions, but because she asked, I went.

recovery anorexia
Photo: Courtesy of @jax_fanucci

The first few sessions were as fun as watching paint dry, but slowly I began to listen to the instructor and learn things about my mind and body that I never had in my 24 years. Yoga healed me in ways that no amount of medication or therapy could. I found healing, self-love, and joy for life from yoga. All I wanted to do was share that with anyone and everyone possible! Everyone who suffered from being a prisoner in their own mind and body deserved this gift of bliss and release.

Yoga healed me in ways that no amount of medication or therapy could.

My mother found a yoga teacher training course in Bali and, once I was healthy enough, I was off. My incredible mentor Jolie empowered me and gave me even more than I could have ever imagined. This was what I was supposed to do with my life, and for the first time since Mauritius, I had so much love and acceptance from my friends at the yoga studio that I knew this was where life was supposed to take me.

anorexia recovery
Photo: Courtesy of @jax_fanucci

The first thing people ask me when they come to me for help is, “What was the secret to recovery? What was that one thing that made the difference?” The reason so many programs or people fail at recovery is because they focus on one aspect of the process – be it the physical rehabilitation of the body, their social and emotional state, their personal and mental relationship and beliefs towards themselves, their diet, etc. Each little component is as important as the next, and for anyone to truly change their lives permanently, they must work on them all.

The catalyst and strength that drove me forward during my recovery process was the unconditional and total love and support of my mother. I don’t mean to say that this is what cured me, but it is what gave me the strength – along with the motivation – to work through the setbacks in order to find the methods leading to my recovery. That type of unwavering support helped me keep going in moments of hopelessness and helped me find the tools that would aid the recovery process itself, such as yoga, nutrition, self-love, and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming focuses on changing the way your mind thinks).

Changing your thoughts and beliefs is no easy task, but it is possible.

Jax Fanucci is a yoga teacher and certified holistic nutrition coach and the creator of ‘Sweat, Stretch, Smile’, a program through which she works one-on-one with sufferers of eating disorders. 

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