Dancer and dance teacher Alyssa Lisle, tells us about her weight issues, perfectionism and what the Anorexia Voice was telling her.
I started dance classes at the age of 3 and looking back now I can see the perfectionist traits in me. Although I have always thought of this as a positive trait, and I still feel it can be, this is what led me to a more negative place later in life.
I trained in contemporary dance and at age 18 studied on a National Advanced Training Scheme studying a Dance BTEC. By this point dance had taken over the majority of my life, training all day every day. I was also developing myself as a dance teacher on evenings and weekends.
Then a heightened awareness of my body started to develop, making different choices with food. I chose to cut back on unhealthy food and alcohol whenever I could in order to help my body perform at its best. However, the perfectionist in me took over and these positive changes turned into cutting back to as little as my body could possibly take.
I researched into nutrition and training methods that would get me the results I wanted, which was to have an athletic body and be able to carry me through 8 hours of training a day. I began to eat proper portions of food that nourished my body and allowed me to train at the level I wanted. This helped get me through my extra-curricular lessons and teaching alongside of the course.
However, in January 2015 I sustained a long term back injury which left me unable to train and dance full out for nearly 5 months and triggered me into a state of panic. My healthy relationship with food had been solely based on the fact that I was intensively training every day. Without the training in place I struggled to allow myself to eat knowing that I was sedentary for most of the day. By the time I had recovered from my injury, my relationship with food was damaged.
That summer I attended various dance intensives away from home, training for 10 hours a day on the smallest amount of food possible. I cross-trained during this time as I felt that what I was already doing “wasn’t enough.” I dropped a dramatic amount of weight in that summer and became extremely obsessive with my body and food.
Final year at college
I entered my final year of dance training punishing myself every day and failing to see the damage I was doing. I went back to my training of 8 hours a day (with 8am sprints before I went in and a gym session afterwards), teaching 4 nights a week and Saturdays, and cycling everywhere in all weather in an attempt to remain as active as possible. It was clear to those around me I had developed an exercise addition. However, I only saw this as “helping” my training as dancer.
During the entire time I was also in a miserable state failing to see that my body needed to be nourished properly to perform at its best. If I had a bad class I blamed myself, it was my fault and I only needed to train harder to rectify it. I became totally pedantic around food and hated going home in case I was forced to eat food that didn’t fit what I “allowed” myself. School meal times were awefull, as I felt everyone was watching my every move. I was weighed by staff almost every day and asked to consider taking leave on multiple occasions in order to try and heal my body.
Physical and mental issues
I had dizzy spells, chronic chest and stomach pains and was constantly covered in bruises from as something as simple as sitting in the bath. I was an extremely unhappy person. All of this came from one thought: “If I eat unhealthily I would never become the dancer that I want to be and will be throwing away all of my hard work”. This was irrational but I never saw the situation clearly, as I can now. My entire life was controlled by food and exercise. Upon reflection I have huge gaps in my memory during that time. This was either due to the fact that I was so zoned out through my lack of food, or because my mind has tried to shut down as much of that time as it can because it is so painful.
The Anorexia Voice
The voices in my head were my constant self doubt and critical of myself. They me I was worthless and lazy and did not deserve food. They were what drove me to believe that my best would never be good enough. I became fully consumed by these thoughts and they took over my everyday life. Every move I made, whether or not related to dance, was deemed unsatisfactory by these voices. They didn’t necessarily tell me not to eat, but they linked food with being undisciplined, resting and being lazy.
I listened to the voices and felt awful because it wasn’t what my body needed. I would add in another gym session when my body needed to rest. This affected my energy levels for the rest of my sessions, making me feel worse about myself. If I did try to ignore the voices, they would tell me that I would never be good enough. I felt awful and would wish that I had listened in the first place. I couldn’t win either way, which made me feel helplessness in every aspect of my life.
Being able to talk about it
I am now able to talk more openly about my experiences. I have been able to come out of the other side and look back with a much clearer thought process. Weight restored, my challenge now lies within the emotional and mental side of my struggles. I feel this is getting better every day by taking the time to look after myself. I believe that recovery has been 100% worth it. Now I am aware of the consequences and cost that my experiences had and would never want to return to that place. My family and friends no longer worry about my constantly shrinking frame. I am now no longer at risk of losing my job, my business and the reputation that I have worked so hard to build over the past few years.
My eating disorder has taught me a lot about myself and how strong I can be when I need to. I am now able to look at situations and understand whether I am acting rationally or not. The internal voices that once controlled my entire being, I can ignore. I have become ME again, the dancer I used to be. Having regained my strength, I can now jump and throw myself around the studio. What’s more, I enjoy it. I can dance because I love it. Now I focus on how it feels and no longer worry about the size of the reflection staring back at me in the mirror.
Eating disorders advice
My advice for anyone who may be going through a similar situation? Seek help, open up and be honest with yourself and those around you about what you are experiencing. Whether this is a professional, a family member or friend, it will help. They may not understand, but they will listen and even that will take a weight off your shoulders.
Recovery is scary. Although nothing is scarier than a life of fear and guilt with no escape from that internal voice. Take time for yourself, away from your usual schedule to reflect on why this may have started. Write it down, scream it into the air, anything that helps. Find motivation to get better. This could be travelling, a job, or just to live freely. Remember how good dance and exercise used to feel when you had the energy to give it your all. Imagine going back to that place. I promise you, you will never regret recovery. Consider therapy as an option. This can be extremely relieving and assist in the realisation of where your eating disorder may have stemmed from. This in turn can help you tackle the struggle from a place of knowledge and support.
Alyssa was born in Newcastle upon Tyne UK, where she trained on the Dance City CAT and the BA Hons Professional Practise. She gained a 1st Class Honours degree. Since graduation, Alyssa has been heavily involved in community dance practice teaching across the North East region. She is a dancer for 2 Newcastle based dance companies and is involved in performance projects in addition to this.
Alyssa Lisle Facebook –click here
Here are a few links if you want to find out more about eating disorders, or contact me, Terry Hyde
In the UK
In the USA
Psychology Today article:
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