Please note: This blog contains detailed information about disordered eating. This may be confronting for people who have experienced this type of illness.
Eating disorders affect approximately 16% of the Australian population – and yet these mental health conditions are still widely misunderstood. Actress and personal trainer Ariel Kaplan knows this all too well. Having lived through her own struggle with an eating disorder, she is now passionate about living a healthy, balanced life. After seeking support from friends, family and a psychologist, she now uses her story to help others.
We spoke to Ariel about how she found professional help and what advice she has for those who might be struggling…
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, Ok To Talk can help you find professional help. Get started using our fast and FREE online service today!
Can you tell us a bit about your eating disorder and how it impacted your life?
My eating disorder developed to its full extent when I was about 18/19 years old. It started off as a completely innocent attempt to get fit and healthy, and within a very short space of time it became an obsession and an addiction. I was very fortunate to only be in the depths of my disorder for around a year, and while that year was the worst of my life, I still count myself as lucky because I know people can spend years upon years struggling with an ED.
It changed every single aspect of my life and took away anything that made me who I am. Every thought was about food, every waking moment was spent worrying about how I would control my next meal or not eat more calories than the day before. I genuinely struggle to remember what it was like because that entire year of my life is a total blur, it was as if my mind was shutting down, so it could focus on one thing only. People around me tell me that I was unrecognisable, not just physically but my personality and soul seemed to just disappear. I was truly a shell of a person and I can whole heartedly say it was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through to this day.
When did you realise that you needed to get help for your illness?
I think I realised quite a long time before I took the steps to actually getting help. I was very aware of what eating disorders were after growing up in the acting and dancing industry with two older sisters; it wasn’t something foreign to me. While my intentions were completely positive and pure at the beginning, I think within months deep down I knew I had spiralled to a point where I was no longer healthy, and more importantly – no longer in control. It was not until I finally broke down to my Mum, probably months after realising how serious it was, that I actually agreed to go get help.
What did you find to be the most effective forms of professional help for you? (Therapy, in-patient treatment etc)
I was fortunate enough to very narrowly miss being put into hospital/in-patient treatment. I was given a few months to prove I could do it on my own otherwise I’d be sent to treatment and I would lose my job and everything I had worked so hard for. So that is when I knew I had to get better, and I did that with the help of a psychologist who was also a certified nutritionist.
She was incredible, she gave me cold hard facts, she was honest and upfront but still caring and thoughtful. I am someone who responds well to honesty and being logical, and she really was the perfect psychologist for me. I know there are some out there who may not be trained in eating disorders so I think it’s very important to find the right person for you.
Was there anything stopping you from getting help? E.g. a fear of being judged, financial issues etc.
Absolutely. The hardest part of an eating disorder is that voice that doesn’t want you to get better. There were no external factors stopping me, everyone else was so encouraging and supportive in getting me help. The only person/thing stopping me was me. The eating disorder becomes your identity and you feel like it’s the only thing that makes you special. It felt as if I no longer was sick, then what would I have?
It sounds absolutely insane in hindsight and to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, but the thought of relinquishing control and losing all of this ‘progress’ I thought I had made is quite literally the most petrifying experience you can imagine.
There are is a lot of stigma and misconceptions surrounding eating disorders. Is there any one thing you wish others would understand about this illness and how it affects those living with it?
I wish people realised eating disorders are not a choice in any way, shape or form. They are chemical imbalance in the brain, a genuine illness and I can assure you that anyone who has one did NOT ask for it. It is something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. We as people are so quick to judge but you never know what has led someone to where they are. People can seem to have the perfect life with everything you could dream of and yet still, something in their brain tells them they are not enough and never will be.
If you are dealing with or are close to someone going through an ED, just be patient, be kind and don’t push. Make it clear that you are there for them the second that they need you but also tell them that you know they’ll get better and you believe in them. Eating disorders only start going away when the person going through them decides that they want it to go. And it’s not just one choice, it’s every single second of every single day for a long time. Don’t underestimate the turmoil and pain an ED can cause and remember that mental illness is just as serious as physical illness.
What advice would you give anyone who might be struggling with an eating disorder (or another mental illness) and is considering getting help?
I know you feel like you will never get out of this hole, that life will never be normal again and you can’t even remember what it’s like to go out for dinner and not stress or to not check the calories on a label, but I swear to you – there is a happy ending. So many people have made it out the other side, and you will too. Maybe not today or tomorrow but believe there is an end in sight and every day work towards it.
No matter how scared you are, please try and get some form of professional help. I was cynical too, I didn’t think anyone could help me, but in a way letting someone else take control allowed me to breathe and start getting better. You are stronger than you know, and you will be yourself again. You will smile and laugh again. A happy life is so much closer than you think.