'It's certainly not a choice' - Woman, 25, on the year anorexia ruled her life

Instead of competing with her dance crew at a national competition, Jess Dyson was sitting in the doctor's office with "nothing to live for" when she realised anorexia had consumed her. 

At just 14, the now-25-year-old's eating disorder was triggered by a group of girls who were making comments about her weight and her wanting to change it.

The then-teenager had taken comfort in the idea that if she changed how skinny she was, she would be accepted and "belong".

"I cut out things slowly and then ended up being diagnosed with an eating disorder," she said.

"It was hell on Earth, you don't know when you're going down that path, and you don't choose it.

"It felt like having a monster inside your head controlling what you could eat, controlling how much exercise you have to do, and if you didn't do what it said, you felt so much shame, so much guilt and it just wasn't worth it."

The 25-year-old developed an eating disorder at the age of 14.
The 25-year-old developed an eating disorder at the age of 14. Photo credit: Supplied / Jess Dyson

She would spend "hours and hours" looking at herself in front of a mirror, not seeing the same thing every time.

In one instance she could recognise her dropping weight and how skinny she was, but in another she would believe she was overweight.

The disease consumed her for one year, Mrs Dyson calling the duration: "The longest year of my life."

She found her passion for dance after auditioning to join a crew to "secretly lose weight" so that she could exercise through dance.

On the day they were meant to go to a national competition, she was also meant to be hospitalised.

It took Mrs Dyson to reach her lowest point, with "no friends and nothing to live for" before she realised that, although she no had control over her habits, she could make the choice to fight against them.

At the doctor she begged for the assistance she knew she needed.

Kellie Lavender, who has worked to treat and understand eating disorders for more than 17 years, told The AM Show about some of the myths surrounding them.

"It's about disordered eating behaviours and the cognitions and the intense anxiety that comes with eating food or how one feels about their body."

"It's certainly not a choice, these are actually really serious mental health illnesses and once we understand what's happening in the brain, the fear, the shame, the guilt, that's associated to them that helps us understand the disorder and target."

Mrs Dyson said that she is now "fully free" of the illness.
Mrs Dyson said that she is now "fully free" of the illness. Photo credit: Supplied / Jess Dyson

She explained that, depending on if a patient is diagnosed with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder or ARFID (avoid restrictive food intake disorder), their experience will be different.

Ms Lavender told Duncan Garner that conversations around mental health increasing is a good thing however, she acknowledges there are certain pockets, like eating disorders, that need more attention because of the myths that surround them.

She explained some of those include that it's a choice, about vanity or that it's about people wanting to look thin.

"For example, we know that to get to malignant anorexia there has to be a genetic predisposition so not everyone can actually have anorexia," referencing a world-wide study, which New Zealand is involved in.

She said anorexia is found in women more commonly, but about one out of 10 people with the illness are men. 

The 25-year-old wants others to know it is not weak to ask for help.
The 25-year-old wants others to know it is not weak to ask for help. Photo credit: Supplied / Jess Dyson

Mrs Dyson is working toward launching 'Redefied'  an organisation committed to going into high schools and speaking about eating disorders to raise awareness, provide hope and speak openly about eating disorder as well as pointing people in right direction of where to go for help.

 "You have to make a choice to fight, it starts with making that choice and then pushing through, so you start with that choice but then you have to push through."

She used a journal at meal-times to write all the lies that were going through her head, like that she was overweight and all the truths, for example that her body needed the food.

"It's not weak to get help either, you have a lot of courage when you ask for help and I think that's something which you need to do, because you can't get through anorexia or any eating disorder alone, you need the support.

"There's so much hope for recovery, you don't just have to be partially free but you can be fully free and you can actually learn to love yourself."

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