I have been following Axelle for a long time now. I already met her in real life at the Bootytools launch. She’s a super enthusiastic girl but unfortunately, her past hasn’t always been great. Axelle already wrote a guest blog in March which has been read many times. You can find it if you click here. Unfortunately, it’s only available in Dutch since I only started blogging in English a few months ago.
Can you tell us something more about yourself?
I am Axelle. I am 18 years old and I study international communication and media at Thomas More in Mechelen. I am now in my first year. My hobby is going to the gym. I’ve been doing this for two years now. I try to go to the gym five times a week.
Is there a reason you think that mental health is so important?
I know that mental health is super important to you, maybe even more important than physical health.
Yes. I had an eating disorder. Two years ago, I started losing weight and I started to develop an eating disorder. I was addicted to living a healthy lifestyle. I see a lot of people in the gym who are also struggling with that and who don’t realize it. They are addicted to living a healthy lifestyle: eating too healthy, going to the gym too much… They put their physical health before their mental health and I think that is super scary to see. I know it is very unhealthy because I’ve been there. Physical health is super important to me but I am sure you can’t live in a healthy body if you are not in a healthy mind.
How do you recognize the obsession about health?
If someone says there was a birthday and he/she says there was cake and now her progress is ruined. I think if you live a healthy life in general there is nothing wrong with eating cake once a week or twice a week or three times a week… If you live a normal life there is nothing wrong with that. People who say they weren’t able to train for a whole week and who really suffer from that are also in danger. A week in your whole life is really not that bad.
Can you tell us what orthorexia is?
I know you suffered from orthorexia but a lot of people don’t know what it means.
It is not about not wanting to eat but you are addicted to being healthy. Healthy in an extreme sense. Everything I thought was not healthy, I banned out of my diet. I went to the gym two times a day and I only ate fruit and vegetables. I thought this was healthy but it wasn’t. I didn’t get enough vitamins in, not enough calories, nutrients I needed… I lost weight and it wasn’t because I didn’t want to eat or because I wanted to starve myself. I was just too obsessed with living a healthy lifestyle in every sense. Everything I did or ate was a battle. Not only my food but also at school, everything had to be perfect. It was perfection in everything in my life. I was tired all the time. I slept 12 hours a day but I kept being tired. In my head, I was constantly battling. People can’t see this because on the outside, you look healthy. On the inside, you’re constantly battling this voice. It was a difficult period.
How did you go from having anorexia to orthorexia?
I never really had anorexia. In the beginning I didn’t want to eat because I wanted to lose weight but then I wanted to live healthy and I became obsessed with it. I just wanted to be healthy and lose weight. It was not that I didn’t want to eat. In the beginning I didn’t eat very much because I wanted to lose weight and I was trying to find out how. It was mostly orthorexia I was suffering from.
What do you think caused having orthorexia?
I’ve always been a real perfectionist in all parts of my life. I was super strict with myself. When the doctor said I had to lose some weight, I wanted to do it perfectly. Most people who struggle with an eating disorder are very strict. I think it can happen to everyone but I think some people are triggered more easily than others.
How did you recover from orthorexia?
My eating disorder will always be a part of your life but you will have to find that voice in your head. I still have this voice in my head but now I can fight it. I wasn’t able to do this in the past. The last couple of months, I have been able to fight that voice. There are always days that are not going very well but most days are going well now. For example, some time ago I went to Quick. This voice came up in my head again. I felt like I failed because I worked so hard to make that voice go away. I am proud that I still ate at Quick and I got through it.
How do you think going to the gym helped you recover?
I always felt bad about the way I looked. The gym helped me gain confidence. Every time I can improve myself with doing more sets, taking more weights… I feel like I have accomplished something. I wanted to be healthy and I lost weight but I didn’t have any curves anymore. It helped me believe my body is beautiful but it also helped me mentally.
Do you talk with friends or family if you had a bad day?
Yes. My family has been through it with me. My parents were with me during most of my sessions with the psychologist. They know when I am not doing well. I think it’s important to share this with them. At that moment, I couldn’t fix it myself. If I would have those thoughts again, I want them to be able to help me. In those moments, you are not able to do it yourself. Your thoughts say something to you and they convince you. You can’t do anything about it. I am sure you can’t fix your mental problems on your own. I used to think it was possible but when I look back, the psychologist and dietitian have helped me the most. Even talking to my family was not enough. An outsider who doesn’t know you, who doesn’t judge you, who doesn’t know anything about you, who just listens, feels so good. You can just tell your story and that person is able to understand and help you. They already heard more similar stories. If you have a problem, I think you need to go to a psychologist. I think it’s terrible that people still see it as a taboo. It still takes people so long to go to a psychologist. They feel like their problem is not big enough. If you feel something, you should just go. It is not a problem. It can help you. I think it’s super important.
What made you decide to search for help?
To be honest, I didn’t want help. I didn’t think I had a problem. My mom saw it very clearly. The first time I went to the hospital, to a psychologist and to a dietitian, I didn’t want to go. My mom forced me to go. After a few times, I wanted to go myself because I noticed it was good for me. I was able to tell my story and express my feelings. Before, I would just suppress my feelings. The first step is very difficult but eventually, you start realizing it is necessary.
Weren’t you afraid that going to the gym would make things worse?
In the beginning, my parents didn’t allow me to go. They were afraid it would also become an obsession. In the beginning, I only went twice a week. My parents started seeing that I went to the gym because I liked it and when I couldn’t go, it was ok for me.
Do you think you can accept your body the way it is, even though it doesn’t look fit or muscular and you are not going to the gym?
Yes. Your body doesn’t have to meet the beauty standards to accept yourself. I think this is one of the biggest life lessons. You have to accept yourself the way you are. You have to love yourself the way you are.
Do you think it’s important that people talk about mental health?
Yes. In the beginning, I thought I was the only one having problems. Since I started posting on Instagram, a lot of people tell me that they are feeling the same. I always get a lot of reactions when I post something about mental health. I always recommend people to go to a psychologist, even though they think their problem is not that bad. My Instagram really helped me to recover. I noticed that I was able to motivate other people. I help them by posting workouts but also posting things about mental health. If people tell me I am doing well, it feels so good. I am very open on Instagram and it feels good if people react to that in a positive way.
Do you think physical and mental health go hand in hand?
Yes. I always say ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’. I think they are inseparable. I don’t think people with the perfect body are healthy. Even just doing some yoga, meditating or just taking a moment for yourself is something a lot of people forget.
What are your best tips to improve your body image?
Do something you love. It doesn’t have to be going to the gym. You can also walk, dance… You need to go to the gym because you love it, not to burn off calories. If I come home from a long school day, I don’t say to myself ‘I have to go to the gym’. I go because I want to go. You need to make sure you are also healthy mentally. You should stop comparing yourself with other people on Instagram. If you don’t look up to them and you only compare yourself to them, just unfollow them.
What are your best tips for students to find a good balance between studying, free time and health?
Planning is super important. Plan when you are going to train like it is an appointment. If you are going to study, plan it into your agenda. I work with a lot of colors. I can immediately see what is free time, gym, school… That way, it’s less chaos in my head.
I am very happy Axelle let me interview her. I think her story is super inspiring and I am happy to share it on my blog for the second time. Mental health is super important and I am realizing it more and more. Do you want to follow Axelle on Instagram? Click here. Do you want to watch her YouTube videos? Click here.
If you liked this article, please share it on your stories and tag me (@janasix) and Axelle (@axelle.wilssens). We would really appreciate it!