One dancer seemed regal and graceful on the outside, but little did the people around her realize that inside, she was struggling with a biting eating disorder that first haunted her when she was just eight years old.
Dance teacher Colleen Werner, 20, shares that beauty and body standards of the dance world caused her to spiral into a devastating eating disorder that took over her life for five long years.
But today the Long Island, New York, is now one year out of recovery hopes to be a beacon of hope for women struggling with eating disorders and hopes to educate others on recognizing the signs, saying that disorders do not discriminate by size and can attack anyone.
Before: Colleen’s old self during her five-year eating disorder reveals her thing figure, bleak face, long brunette hair, and sad, serious expression
Happier days! Today Colleen is one year free of her eating disorder and says she no longer checks the scale and prefers to live the way she wants to, in moderation
Dancing Queen: Today she dedicates herself to her dancing career and takes to social media to prove that anyone can be a powerful and beautiful dance, regardless of body shape
Colleen revealed that she struggled with body image for years and that she first was plagued with body image issues when she was just eight, causing her to diet at the startlingly young age of 10.
By the age of 14 she was diagnosed with an eating disorder and shared that her life ‘revolved around food’ for five years.
The years of disorder were hard on the dancer who quickly became exercise obsessed. On top of her 15 hours dancing a week, she would exercise at home and hit the gym. Soon she began counting calories and restricting herself from certain foods.
Colleen reveals that her sudden weight obsession was fueled by the pressures of dancer body types and the high expectation to fit into a particular body shape.
Colleen’s weight quickly fluctuated, but she didn’t feel better.
‘I first started worrying about my body at eight years old and dieted for the first time at 10 years old. Many things contributed to starting and continuing my eating disorder – influences from the media, pressure in the dance world, family stress, and likely my genetics as well,’ Colleen said.
‘It’s hard to pinpoint one particular thing that started or continued my eating disorder because eating disorders are so complex. I started recovery at 19 years old, so I was suffering for about five years,’ she added.
She added that she used eating control as a way to cope with her anxiety and depression as well.
‘I used eating disorder behaviors to numb myself so I wouldn’t have to feel strong emotions like depression and anxiety, however this numbing also meant that I didn’t feel full happiness either,’ she said.
Bikini season! During her eating disorder from age 14 to 19 she appeared to be much thinner as above in a beach photograph
The old her: Colleen revealed that even though she was thinner, she was never happier with her physical appearance
Transformation! A photo from 2015 (left) reveals a wildly different Colleen compared to today (right), where is seen as much happier, fuller, and healthier
But her meticulous diet and skewed health regimen took a major toll on her body. Not only was she ignoring her hunger pangs, she would often faint from lack of energy.
‘I was always hungry, and my thoughts almost constantly revolved around food, my body, and exercise. I was often lightheaded, and there were a few occasions where I fainted,’ she revealed.
But Colleen reveals she had no idea that her mix of emotional distress and restricted diet were the symptoms of a disorder.
‘I felt very isolated, however I also didn’t think it was a disorder – I thought this was just ‘dieting’ and that I was making myself healthier, when I was really making myself very unhealthy,’ she shared.
And eventually the pressure and suffering of her food obsession and body’s exhaustion became too much and overpowered the gratification of losing weight.
‘I was sick of being consumed by this disorder. After seeing several recovery accounts on Instagram, I realized that I wasn’t alone, and I also realized that continuing on the path I was on was really harmful,’ she said.
A movement that moved her to embrace her natural body was a social media hashtag centered on body positive dancers #BoPoBallerina, which demonstrated that any body type could be a beautiful model of movement.
Under the sea! Colleen has no trouble showing off her figure on her social media handles, and reveals a tattoo on her hip that reads ‘love yourself’ – a mantra she now lives by
Cheese! The student is now blonde and has a fuller, healthier figure, and is constantly pictured smiling, a sign that her new lifestyle has brought her true piece and happiness
Supportive love! She shares a sweet photo of herself this year with her boyfriend, who’s supported her new body positive lifestyle
Today the dancer looks nothing like her shell of the past. She’s blonde, she’s all smiles, and she’s at a healthier and heavier weight compared to her old frail frame, and today she loves to embrace her curves.
And it’s been a year since she weighed herself and she is clueless as to her current weight – and she says it’s better that way.
‘I wanted to stop wasting so many years of my life on hating myself and trying to change my body. I wanted to be more – I wanted to find a true purpose,’ she shared.
And she has. She shares her road to recovery on her Instagram, with the message that eating disorders may cause weight loss but they’re indicative of a much deeper isue.
‘My low weight is irrelevant. While some eating disorders do cause dramatic weight loss, eating disorders are mental illnesses. Some of the times where I’ve struggled the most mentally were not when I was at my lowest weight,’ she said.
‘Media coverage of eating disorders focuses far too heavily on the weight aspect of eating disorders, which perpetuates the idea that eating disorders are all about weight, which is completely false, and can also be incredibly triggering,’ she added on media scrutiny of the wrong factors.
Today Colleen lives by an entirely different ethos – to accept herself – and her lifestyle reflects that. She practices intuitive eating and eats anything she’d like in moderation. She reveals she no longer denies herself the occasional ice cream treat. And her family couldn’t be prouder of the great strides she’s made in recovery.
‘I feel so much better about myself now than I ever did during my eating disorder. I’m really working on completely accepting myself for who I am, and I’m realizing that who I am is pretty great,’ she explained.
‘I’ve discovered so many new things about myself now that I’m no longer drowning in my eating disorder,’ she shared.
Once she focused on herself and accepting a new healthier lifestyle, she’s found improvements in other areas of her life as well.
Puppy love! Colleen now regularly takes to Instagram to document her road to recovery and to warn to girls struggling with similar issues that eating disorders can happen to anybody
Self love! Her T-shirt that bares the message ‘your body is not the enemy’ is a hard lesson that took Colleen five years to learn, but now that she’s got it, she’s never looking back
‘I’m able to be a better friend and a better family member. I’m also able to be a better student since I’m properly fueling my body and can focus on my schoolwork,’ she said.
And now her mission is to continue in her dance career to prove that you can be a stunning performer no matter what your body type. On top of that she’s motivated to help other girls suffering with similar emotional and physical disorders that she suffered from for years.
‘I want other people who are suffering from eating disorders to know that they aren’t alone, that recovery is possible, and recovery is worth it. You are more than your body, and you are more than your eating disorder,’ she said.
And her 11,000 followers are ecstatic about her journey and inspirational messages along her road to recovery.
‘Recovery is scary and difficult, but I promise it is worth it. There is more to life than being confined by an eating disorder, but you can’t reach your full potential when you’re still consumed by the disorder,’ she explained.
But she warns that the most important lesson of her journey is that eating disorders occur to all kinds of people, regardless of size.
‘I also want to stress the fact that all eating disorders are valid regardless of your gender, size, or body type. Eating disorders don’t discriminate and eating disorders don’t have a particular look,’ she expressed.
As she reflects on her long road to recovery, she can’t help but feel pride at her new body and newfound sense of confidence and self love.
‘Everyone is really proud of me. They’re especially proud of the important work I’m doing to help others who are struggling with similar issues, and the work I’m doing to help create a world where eating disorders don’t exist,’ she said.