Despite a thriving career in the media spotlight, Sydney-based sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo was quietly battling a debilitating eating disorder that threatened her life. Now on the road to recovery, she shares what gave her the strength to start living again.
*Trigger warning: this story covers content to do with eating disorders*
Part of this journey has been to overcome the fear of weight gain, which kept me constrained for years. And, although you may not be anorexic, I know that many of us have the idea that thinner = better, or thinner = happier.
If that thought has ever crossed your mind, here is a piece for you, from my personal recovery blog, which will soon be published as my second book.
Though I know I have a way to go, I know I’ve come a long way.
I remember when I was in my worst phases, I would be running, starving, and literally feel like my heart was struggling to beat – but I did not stop running, and I didn’t eat. Instead, I would just recognise the feeling and simply think, “hmm, interesting”, and continue like it was nothing.
Seeing photos of me around this time – especially end of 2019 – I do wonder: how close to death was I? The photos show protruding bones and veins, and my head looked about 10 times too big for my body. My body fat percentage would have been no higher than five per cent, which means that my organs were deprived of fat they needed to operate right.
Crazy to think that this, somewhat, was a choice. This was not a concentration camp or a hunger strike. This was my brain, telling me that I needed to do this, and this was my body following directions.
Despite being my bag of bones, I remember being obsessed about getting smaller, even then.
The habits that made me lose so much weight remained, so even when there were times that I thought I was going too far, and that I should really stop, I didn’t know how to.
Thinking back to that time, it was truly awful. I remember waking up in dread each morning, knowing that I had to follow a fitness and eating ‘schedule’ – one that my anorexia told me would keep me safe and happy. It told me if I didn’t follow those rules, I would feel even worse than I already did. It told me the only thing I looked forward to, the thing that gave me peace, was my daily patterns, mornings loaded with movement, restricted eating all day, then enjoying a meal at the end of the day.
Writing this now I realise, it’s messed up. Seriously.
This was my life, day in, day out, for a good 30 months. No wonder I was considering suicide in January 2021. I had been suffering for so long; I had tried to meditate my way out, to work my way out, to socialise my way out. Nothing was working. Every day was hard, every moment was like torture. And I had no solution, and no confidence that I could break out of the torture chamber that had become my life.
I share all of this not for sympathy, or to be dramatic. I share this to create the awareness of how deadly, and disastrous eating disorders can be.
I also share this because for anyone going through an eating disorder, it can feel like you are the only one spiralling out of control, and that everyone else has their shit together.
Evidently, as you can see, here I was, definitely not with my sh*t together. Interestingly, this was a time during which my professional life was thriving. Just because it seemed like everything was a-ok on the outside, as you can see, it was clearly not.
The road to recovery
So, where am I now? About a million miles away from there.
Admittedly, I am still not 100% recovered and still struggle to eat properly some of the time. After so many years of disordered eating, it’s like my body doesn’t know what ‘ordered’ eating is.
But I am in a place where these rules do not run my life, and I do not spend days tormenting myself by eating the least, or exercising the most. I have gained weight and I am not trying to erase it from my body.
Rather, I am moving into my greatest recovery because, to be frank, I’m sick and tired of being sick. I’m sick of the games, I’m sick of being hungry, and I’m sick of the no-win scenarios my eating disorder (ED) set up for me for on a daily basis.
Fortunately, I have an incredible support system, ferocious willpower and a vision to be a leader – for recovery. And so, each time I hear the ED voice bubbling or the behaviours arising, I endeavour to steer away.
I know there are two courses of action with ED’: every action either moves you closer or moves you further away. And now, after becoming crystal clear of the hell which is anorexia, I know which way I want to go.
Firstly, if this resonates with you, I would love to hear from you (you can DM me via Instagram here). Secondly, get help. You cannot solve the problem yourself – if you could have, you would have already. Move forward with life and say goodbye to the torture, the torment, the trap that is thinner = better.
As you can see, it’s not.