By Sarah Francis
A former ballerina has hit out at the profession after the pressure to be ‘lean’ fuelled an eating disorder that nearly killed her.
Anais Garcia, 20, was 16 years old when her battle with anorexia led her reduced her calorie intake to just 600 a day.
At the height of her sickness she weighed just 80lbs (5.7st) and was told if she danced again her heart would stop.
When she passed out in February and felt that death seemed better than dealing with her eating disorder, she realised she had to choose recovery.
After turning her life around she is now determined to become personal trainer and work with dancers who struggle with body image.
Anais, from Baltimore, Maryland said: “I went to a performing arts high school majoring in dance where there was a huge emphasis on body type.
“Ballet played a huge role in my body image issues and eating disorder. The body is highly exposed in dance.
“You wear skin tight leotards and tights in front of full length mirrors for hours each day.
“It is very easy to criticize yourself and compare your body to others.
“I was constantly told to change my body – specifically to develop longer and leaner muscles.
“Desperate to make a change and please my teachers, I began to diet and count calories.
“Many are unaware of how much of a slippery slope this can be when you have no professional nutritional counselling or knowledge.
“My dieting slowly turned into restricting, purging, and over exercising.
“By the time of my graduation, I was really battling a rough eating disorder.
“Many teachers promote the dancers who are thinner and taller and ignore the dancers who are not.
“When I began to lose weight unhealthful, I was awarded with multiple lead roles for the first time and placed in the highest level.
“This fuelled my disorder and only made me more determined to get sicker.”
After school Anais continue to lose weight and was hospitalised during her first semester of university in 2015 aged 18.
She was forced to stop dancing for three months and gained back 20lbs.
However 18 months after she returned to dancing, she began dieting again and relapsed.
She said: “This lead to a very deadly relapse that I never expected.
“I was devastated because after all the sacrifice and work, I had regressed to a point even lower than before.
“This time it was different. No longer was I purging, abusing laxatives, or over exercising.
“This time I simply refused to eat; it was anorexia at its worst.
“I would dance for hours with nothing in my system, and I would rely on caffeine to get me through each day. ”
Then one day at a dance photoshoot she passed out.
She said: “It was a cold day and the cold was simply too much for my weak body to handle.
“My mum and boyfriend called 911 and I was taken to the emergency care center.
“I felt really weak and delirious however, I wasn’t scared.
“I thought I was going to die and I felt at peace knowing that I wouldn’t suffer anymore from my ED.
“It’s sad to say but at the time I wouldn’t have minded dying. I felt bad that my mum had to see me so sick.
“This event really woke me up to the reality of my disorder.
“I decided to walk away from ballet without the hospital this time and gain weight on my own.
“For some reason this worked much better than the hospital and even months of treatment.
“The difference was inside me. I was fueled by my anger, my determination, and my fear.”
She forced herself to meal prep and up her calories each week until she had reached 2000 calories a day.
She added: “The most important thing I did was rest. My body had a lot to catch up on, so I slept for weeks.
“Slowly but surely my energy began returning and my weight began increasing.
“I only weighed myself at the doctor’s office because I refused to be a slave to the scale in my own house considering I use to weigh myself after each meal.”
This year she is finally regaining her life both physically and mentally.
She said: “In the past, I would turn down invitations, parties, meals, anything that possibly involved food – which is a lot in this society.
“I missed out on so many delicious meals for years.
“Now, I am rediscovering life and it’s many benefits. I eat cake once in a while, and go out with friends when asked.
“I also recently started my blog to share my story and hopefully help others.”
Despite reaching a healthy weight, she admits she has further to go in her journey.
She said: “I am heading in the right direction.
“I am only going to recover as much as my determination allows, and as of now I refuse to die.
“I am on a mission to recover fully and help others one day.”
She added: “I hope I can raise awareness to the relationship between ballet and eating disorders.”
Read more on her blog here.