Korey Baruta’s day began like any other. She journeyed down the white, vacant, unembellished hallways of her ward, her nostrils permeated with an antiseptic, clinical amora. It is a scene that will be forever etched in her memory and a smell that continues to haunt her.
Her only escape was a barren courtyard that became her own personal oasis, a place to evade the nightmare she lived in. Day in, day out, she would await her treatment, searching for a light at the end of a bleak and desolate tunnel.
For Korey, this was her reality, a reality where a young student almost succumbed to the life-threatening illness Anorexia-Nervosa.
Korey had been diagnosed with the illness, an eating disorder that causes its victims to obsess over their weight, in 2018. Her obsession with controlling her weight plummeted her into starvation. While many would see this as an out-of-control state, Korey felt like eating – or not eating – was the one thing she could control. “It brought a sense of calm over what was hectic in life,” she says.
Korey’s health slowly deteriorated and dark thoughts continued to encompass her. As a result of her prolonged starvation, Korey was admitted to The Acute Psychiatric Unit at The Austin Hospital.
“I’d try and have control over something, and for me that was over my eating and my weight,” Korey says. “I was starving myself for years and it was actually really bringing me harm, but in those moments, if someone told me to eat, that was my safety net.”
Anorexia-Nervosa is a devastating illness that possesses the highest mortality rate amongst psychiatric disorders. According to the Garvan Medical Research Institute, one–in–five patients attempt suicide as a consequence of their disease, and 20 per cent subsequently die from extensive starvation to the brain and body.
Eating Disorders Victoria has also reported that one million people currently suffer with an eating disorder in Australia, equating to about 4 per cent of the current population. Additionally, the primary age demographic affected is 15-17-year-olds, making this highly invasive and controlling disease a global epidemic amongst young people.
Since birth, Korey had always been highly anxious. She says that, from the womb, she had latched onto her mother; born with separation anxiety. As a child, and as a teenager, she found it difficult to make friends and to assimilate into daily life, as the conjured thoughts that questioned her self-worth plagued her mind.
“I wasn’t extroverted in any way; I was a highly anxious child. I had a lot of attachment issues,” Korey says.
“I was really clingy towards my mum, she couldn’t leave me, if she had to go to the shops, she couldn’t leave me with anyone else, I had to be with her.”
During her adolescence, Korey explored ways to find herself but ultimately fell short. She describes wearing skinny jeans and baggy clothes to hide her weight-loss as a front, a “Tomboy aesthetic”. This continued throughout high school – a place that she says was saturated with the desire to fit in. But for Korey she didn’t want to fit in, she wanted to be different, she just wanted to be herself.
“It’s a hard thing,” she says. “Do you sacrifice who you really are to try and fit in, or do you stay true to yourself and become completely isolated? It’s a catch 22.”
Korey also notes that her hobby as a dancer played into the depletion of her mental health. According to Korey, there was pressure to be petite, as she was surrounded by smaller dancers that made her feel uncomfortable due to the shape of her body.
“I didn’t feel that I could ever be a good enough dancer because I didn’t have the right body type,” she says. “I was even told by my dance teachers that I wouldn’t be a good dancer with my body shape.”
Anorexia in dancers is a prevalent issue. A 2013 Eating Disorders Association survey found that, within the dance community, 12 per cent had suffered with an eating disorder at some stage of their career. Of that 12 per cent, Anorexia and Bulimia were the most likely to affect dancers, with both attributing a combined 6.4 per cent.
Josephine Money, a dietitian, is an advocate for inclusive body attitudes. For more than 13 years, Josephine has developed and evolved her practice Eat Love Live, to support and counsel people through their past traumas and revive their relationship with food.
During her school years, Josephine had no idea what career path she wanted to take. Eventually she gravitated towards a food science class, which ignited her passion to engage in the scientific side of nutrition and food.
“I spent lots of time in cooking classes and food technology, but a food science class piqued my interest in shifting to a more science-based understanding of foods,” Josephine says.
“Over time my appreciation for the importance of counselling skills has evolved. Now I’m a dietitian who specialises in supporting people with eating disorders, disordered eating and diet trauma, in order to recover their relationship with food and their body.”
Josephine contends that eating disorders are misunderstood. She argues that social reconstruction is needed to break down the stigmas attached to bodyweight, which she hopes will eliminate any negative attitudes towards weight gain.
Stigmas are a significant issue for people suffering with an eating disorder. According to Mental Health Australia, it’s a common misconception that having an eating disorder is a lifestyle choice, and that recovery means dropping their negative behaviour. However, overcoming an eating disorder is very complex, and stigmas like these prevent many from seeking help.
“I think that western culture is rampant with fat phobia, and this has a profound effect on us all,” Josephine says. “We need to respect that all bodies are good and to move towards more inclusive attitudes towards bodies.”
During her inpatient stay, Korey curated her Instagram page Story of Korey, which is dedicated to eating disorder awareness. Amassing a large following, Korey uses her platform to promote positivity and to deconstruct negative behaviours surrounding bodyweight, especially the stigmas attached to eating disorders.
Korey’s social media journey began as a diary, to detail her recovery process, but now her account has evolved into a platform that’s inclusive and attempts to helps others struggling with mental illness. Korey, who recently finished studying dietetics, says people often think that smaller is healthier, especially when it comes to body size. But she thinks that these behaviours need to change. “What it comes down to is breaking those stigmas and the belief that you can see someone’s health,” she says.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the Butterfly helpline on 1800 334 673 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.