University student diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at 18 years of age, BRISBANE
After experiencing a series of traumatic events throughout her childhood and at high school, Sophie, 14, subconsciously began to restrict her food intake due to an immense fear of being sick and in order to regain control of her life. This soon led to an obsession with thinness as Sophie also began to exercise excessively.
Over the ensuing four years, Sophie’s disordered eating behaviours escalated significantly as she simultaneously battled other mental illnesses including anxiety and depression. After shedding substantial weight, tests revealed Sophie had abnormal levels of electrolytes and a weakening heart. She was subsequently rushed to hospital emergency and diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.
The now Brisbane-based university student, aged 21, has since been hospitalised on numerous occasions for medical and psychiatric evaluations.
Today, Sophie is under the care of a psychologist, GP, occupational therapist and a dietitian. She is passionate about raising awareness of the devasting impact of her illness and the importance of early intervention and support.
By sharing her story, she hopes others grappling with an eating disorder will feel less alone.
This is Sophie’s story.
When Sophie was only eight years of age she began developing issues with her body image and started to have thoughts about restrictive eating.
“Once an eating disorder creeps into your life, it completely changes who you are,” said Sophie.
“Every day we are required to eat to survive. So, having an illness that affects your perception of food and your ability to survive, is devastating.”
After graduating from high school in 2016, and receiving a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa, Sophie says the illness took hold of her and began to steal both her identity, and her life. Due to her then declining physical and mental health, Sophie chose to take a leave of absence from university, and to stop working.
Following her diagnosis of anorexia nervosa, Sophie was frequently sent to the emergency department by her GP, sometimes even multiple times per week.
“I was so focused on what my eating disorder was telling me to do, that I had no other time for anything else.
“I completely isolated myself from my family and friends, especially during mealtimes. I didn’t want to be tempted by food, or for others to force me to eat,” Sophie said.
After having negative experiences with psychologists and psychiatrists, and while searching for other healthcare professionals for support, Sophie says she primarily managed her eating disorder and early steps towards recovery alone.
Over the past year, Sophie has received more focused and intensive healthcare professional support, attending twice-weekly sessions with her psychologist and regular appointments with her dietitian and GP.
Today, Sophie is optimistic about the future and is hoping to return to university and work.
Given her first-hand experience of anorexia nervosa, Sophie believes there are certain genes that contribute to the illness.
“Over the years, my family history of mental illness has allowed me to see the important role played by genes in their onset, including eating disorders.
“Growing up I showed obsessive compulsive tendencies and I believe this made me particularly vulnerable to developing an eating disorder,” said Sophie.
Sophie is therefore urging Australians aged 13 and over with first-hand experience of an eating disorder, to volunteer for the Eating Disorders Genetics Initiative (EDGI) – the world’s largest genetics investigation of eating disorders ever performed. The study aims to identify the hundreds of genes that influence a person’s risk of developing anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, to improve treatment, and ultimately, save lives.
“Some people battle eating disorders for so long without knowing, or without help from others.
“If researchers can identify the genes that influence a person’s risk of developing an eating disorder, then hopefully these people will be able to access the right treatment and support early on,” Sophie said.
Should you suspect that you, or a loved one, may be living with an eating disorder, speak to your local healthcare professional without delay, or head to www.insideoutinstitute.org.au to complete their screener and assessment, and to access more information and professional support.
Australian professional patient support services offering 24/7 helpline services include:
- Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
- LifeLine: 13 11 14
- Men’s Line Australia: 1300 78 99 78
- Kids Help Line: 1800 55 1800.