Rachel Fearn’s fight against anorexia

February 19, 2020

Food is a daily part of life; it fuels people’s actions and provides the calories to keep their bodies healthy. While many disagree on which foods are “good” and which are “bad,” one thing remains clear: without it, no one can survive. 

For those with eating disorders, however, the obsessive desire to lose weight distorts their relationship with food, making it the enemy. 

Having lived under the shadow of anorexia for nearly three years, 17-year-old Rachel Fearn felt trapped in a vicious cycle. Fearn describes her eating disorder as if it had a mind of its own. When her body told her to eat, her disorder told her to stop. When she wanted to take a break, it told her to work harder. 

“Living with an eating disorder is hell, but hell disguised as heaven. It’s a constant war in your mind of what to do and what not to do: mental calculations of what you’ve eaten and what you’re allowed to eat, how long you’ve exercised for and how much more you need to do, all hidden under the layer of ‘I’m doing this to feel better,’” Fearn said.

A toxic combination of pressure from social media and the constant scrutiny she felt from “health gurus” online played a major role in the start of Fearn’s eating disorder.

“This new phenomenon of so-called online ‘health experts’ is spreading false information. You see people touting these messages, ‘Eat only X every day to see immediate weight loss,’ but this is unrealistic because we are all so varied and unique,” Fearn said.

Another factor that led to the emergence of Fearn’s eating disorder was the need for control. 

According to Shelby Marie Waldner, a support group leader at the Eating Disorder Resource Center (EDRC), eating disorders start with an obsession to fight for control over one’s life, and then, ironically, spiral out of control.

Due to the stress of society’s unrealistic expectations and her own need for control, Fearn began many unhealthy habits such as skipping most meals, exercising obsessively, and avoiding social interactions. 

Such behaviors are not unique to Fearn and are typical markers of an eating disorder. However, some people with anorexia often manage to hide such markers so successfully that no one notices anything is amiss until the disease has reached its most severe stage: organ failure and death. 

Because of the dangerous nature of its symptoms, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health condition. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 20% of people who do not receive treatment for eating disorders will die.

Despite these worrisome statistics, Fearn’s story is one of triumph. Last year, she took her first steps toward recovering from anorexia.

On the day she decided to change her life, Fearn made her Instagram account, @rachel.is.recovering, to document her journey. She created a platform on Instagram to influence more people to seek help for their eating disorders. 

A study done by the Eating Recovery Center (ERC) states that 70% of those who suffer from eating disorders will not seek treatment due to stigma, misconceptions, and lack of access to care. 

Fearn went public with her story because she wanted to diminish this stigma and provide support to her followers from all over the world. She uses social media, which initially played a role in the start of her eating disorder, to fight back against the messages that led to her misery. 

“I try to show my progress, provide tips for recovery, and show that recovery isn’t always easy, but it is the best thing you will ever do. I get so many messages from people telling me they’re too scared to begin recovery, and it breaks my heart, so I try to set a good example and always be there to talk if they need help,” Fearn said.

Along with online support, many organizations specializing in eating disorder recovery are becoming more available to those who need them. 

EDRC, a non-profit organization that links resources for eating disorders in Silicon Valley, views treatment as a multi-faceted approach tailored to each individual’s needs. Some treatment options EDRC suggests are therapy, medication, working with specialists, and hospital treatment. 

“I believe there is not one specific plan for every person. The most important thing you can do is appreciate foods for what they are and realize that they are healing and fueling your body with the proper nutrients,” Waldner said. “Food is nothing to fear.”

As she started to regain her health, Fearn utilized resources such as EDRC to learn how to eat again. Now, she is in full control of her recovery journey and feels hopeful for the future. 

“Everyone’s road to recovery is unique, but to recover you must be willing to have an on-going, honest dialogue with yourself. There is no such thing as perfect; progress is the goal,” Fearn said.

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