Here at ISWAI, we love inspiring girls and nobody fits that bill better than the gorgeous Hayley Harris. After battling an eating disorder, she set up Biting Back an Instagram account filled with inspirational quotes, incredible food pics and notes about her own life, to help other sufferers during their recovery and has quickly gained 13k followers and a wealth of media coverage. Hayley spoke to us about her journey:
Could you start by explaining a bit of background about your battle with Anorexia?
I've battled with Anorexia since my teens. From the age of about 14 it really begun after I lost a lot of weight. Looking back I think it started from pressure amongst peers which then led to an unhealthy relationship with food. From then I was never truly healthy and would dip in and out of it normally being able to "control" it. Then May came last year when, due to numerous personal and relationship problems, it consumed me. I was on a downward spiral and it became my worst relapse to date having lost an untold amount of weight and being admitted into a Eating Disorder clinic.
What was your turning point to start your recovery?
With an Eating disorder or any kind of mental health illness it doesn't just affect you, it affects your loved ones and those around you. My family, friends and boyfriend watched me start to disappear both psychically and mentally and they couldn't take it. It took almost an intervention from them all separately to make me realise that it was going to a point that I couldn't turn back if I didn't now. A trip to the doctors confirmed what we already knew and them advising me hugely not to travel, I was about to go on holiday two days before my visit, because my body couldn't handle the pressure change in the plane. That scares you, really and truly. Realisation that I was worthy of a beautiful and healthy life was having that nearly taken from you.
What inspired you to create Biting Back and what does it mean to you?
When Relapsing I would always look to the websites online called pro-anorexia accounts. Accounts that encourage and actively promote this "ideal" skinny body. I was taken into them and consumed. During recovery I started to realise just as to how dangerous these accounts are. I wanted to fight them-head on. Fight them with the opposite, with a pro recovery account. Something that people of all ages, gender or struggles could relate to. I wanted to be that person that I needed when I was ill and recovering. Someone that could show you that recovery is possible and that giving up the control the illness has is a beautifully, brave achievement worth screaming about. No matter it's ups or downs. I was surrounded by so much support whilst healing and it made me sad thinking that there might be others out there not quite as fortunate as I. So I wanted to be there for them.
Do you believe that social media can “encourage” eating disorders?
Definitely and whole heartedly. Not only are there a tremendous amount of pro anorexia accounts or websites but even the pressure from peers or media is massive. It just takes the wrong time in a persons life to see the wrong thing and it could be a catalyst for them, my story being prime example. Most of what I scroll through on Instagram as an example is painfully edited or morphed into a completely unrealistic body ideal which pains me because now I see this, now my head can comprehend this but some cannot which is obvious when people write "goals" on these pictures of celebrities etc.
How has Biting Back helped your recovery?
Biting Back had actually given me the most incredible step up on my journey in recovery. I use it as an open book and my followers do too. I am honest and open about my emotions which is against everything the illness stands for. Anorexia is a very very lonely illness because you are trapped in your own mind prison that you think only you understand. My account has allowed, not just my followers but myself as well, us to see that we are not alone. That each of us are fighting this battle in different stages but united regardless. It's also allowed my loved ones to understand it a bit more to be honest, it's reunited me with some people who now appreciate and understand the illness better and it's broken barriers.
How did it feel sharing your story and experiences with the press?
Completely unnatural haha. For so long I suffered in silence and didn't want anyone to know I struggled with it because you worry that others judge mental illnesses in a very harsh way and essentially I was exposing myself. But i knew I was doing right. I want to try and help to break the stigma that mental health has around it and if it means that I speak up then I will shout it.
How have you dealt with any comments that followed after your story appeared on The Mail etc? (their website readers are after all known for being particularly nasty!)
I knew that releasing my story would result in some negative feedback. Unfortunately that's what is expected nowadays because it's far too easy for somebody hiding behind a screen to throw around negative energy or hate. I was prepared to be honest. I knew I would be called this or that, but the positive far outweighs the negative. The support that was thrown behind my account was crazy and I don't even blink at the negative. I know I'm doing this for the reasons that I am so I'll never rise to the bullies.
What has been the biggest milestone of achievement during your recovery?
Whilst recovering you are given a goal weight that puts you in a healthy BMI range also know as weight restored. Since recovering and being out of hospital I have now far surpassed that but feel free from all of it now. So I would say that my biggest milestones is releasing the hold that numbers have on me. I no longer care what weight I am. I go by how I feel in my body. Milestones in recovery come in all forms of it though. I still have things called recovery wins that range from cooking your first meal by yourself to eating that extra slice of pizza.
And what’s been the hardest challenge during your recovery?
Choosing recovery. Recovery isn't an instant decision or a one time choice. It's a constant decision. I choose recovery every week, every day and with every bite. It's changing what has been programmed into you and it's releasing that grip that the illness has. I used my illness as an umbrella to hide all of the personal problems that were out of my control underneath. So it's realising that if I want to recover that I need to face these head on and let go.
What advice would you give to anybody who is struggling with an eating disorder and wants to recover?
My biggest advice is to believe; believe that it is possible. Hold onto that little part of you that wants to recover, the real you, because it's deep down inside all of us. And the moment it shines it's light grab it with both hands and never let go. Talk about it to anyone or everyone that you trust. The illness tells you to hide so very much but don't let it. Talk to a parent, friend, helpline or doctor. Admitting you need help isn't being a coward it's the bravest decision you will ever make and something you will never ever regret. Surround yourself with positive influences both in person and online. I found an awful lot of reassurance from Eating Disorder charities NEDA (USA) or B-EAT (UK) and they have an incredible support section on both websites.
Don't be hard on yourself at all. There may be times where you might relapse but it's how you bounce back from them that matters. I sum recovery up as a wave, you need to ride the wave, all this ups and downs but you will eventually get to shore. I haven't reached full recovery yet but I know I will one day. And lastly know you are worthy. Worthy of a beautiful life and worthy of loving yourself.
Follow Hayley's recovery here: