CONTENT WARNING: This story discusses eating disorders
After being diagnosed with an eating disorder at just 15, Lara Wynd was determined to stay strong and not let anything stop her reaching her goals.
Now the 22-year-old is living her dream of being a nurse, while inspiring and helping other young children and adults just like her.
“My time in hospital as a teenager inspired me to become a nurse myself and use my personal experience to help others,” Lara said.
“Nursing is a very difficult profession … but I get so much satisfaction when I feel like I’m actually making a difference in someone’s life.
“Even if it’s just one joke, or a smile, sometimes that is enough to make someone’s day just that little bit more bearable.”
Lara said having that lived experience now helped her to be a better nurse for all her patients, giving her a different perspective on life, health and happiness.
She decided to open up and share her story in the hope of helping others who are on similar journeys to hers.
Her journey began in December 2015, when she set herself a goal to stay fit.
“I was a competitive netball player, and also a dancer, so I set myself a mission to make sure that over the summer holidays I’d stay fit and was prepared for the upcoming netball season,” Lara said.
“It started off as something quite innocent. I was going on short runs most days, doing some strengthening exercises on the other days, but hadn’t made any changes to my food. Then I decided that if I was going to work so hard to stay fit, I should try to ensure my nutritional intake complemented that.
“The media and fitness magazines told me to listen to my hunger and not overeat, so I then started eating less frequently and smaller portions.”
Lara’s intention was to ”listen to her hunger cues”.
“I never intended to lose weight,” she said.
“We didn’t have scales in the house either, so I didn’t actually know I was losing weight.
“It took a little while for my family to notice too, and as my parents were both working a lot over the holidays, I didn’t see them as much, but my sister was the first person to really raise the alarm.”
After going to her GP two months after her disordered behaviour started, and being weighed, Lara was told her weight was dramatically low – she was then diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.
“I started to cry from shock, but also relief, to finally have what I deep down knew was a problem actually confirmed,” she said.
For more than five years, Lara said there wasn’t a single moment she didn’t have thoughts about food and exercise. She was admitted to hospital twice during this period, and was part of a hospital-based outpatient program for several years after.
“I think a lot of people don’t realise the full extent of the impact eating disorders have on your overall happiness and wellbeing,” she said.
“Anorexia is the perfect storm of physical and mental deterioration, both of which can ultimately be fatal. It consumes your every thought, from the moment you wake to the moment you fall asleep.
“The toll my illness has had on my family and friends, particularly my parents, is enormous, and I will always feel guilt for making their lives more difficult than they ever should have been.”
Although she was initially scared of seeking help, Lara she couldn’t have managed everything without the help of her family.
“Their support has given me a reason to keep trying every day,” she said.
“[Anorexia] has been the hardest thing I have ever faced, and probably will ever face.
“As much as a great support system is vital, I do believe eating disorders are a fight that only the individual themselves can overcome at the end of the day, and because of that, I think one of the best things people can do is to help the individual suffering to see that life can be better without their eating disorder.”
Through determination, courage, strength and hope, Lara said despite the many ups and downs, and moments of feeling like giving up, she kept pushing.
“I had hope that things would get better, even if it was going to take a long time,” she said.
“I have come so much further than I ever thought I would, and I’m proud of myself for that.
“I hope I can take my experience and make a difference to other people who are facing similar struggles.”
Lara has now completed a Bachelor of Nursing, has worked at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney, and currently works as a registered nurse in Queanbeyan and Canberra.
She urges anyone who has concerns about a loved one’s mental health or wellbeing to speak with them.
“Something that I try to emphasise to patients, as well as family and friends, is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to health,” the registered nurse said.
“Going through what I have has made me realise that health is so much more than your physical body; a healthy mind is just as important, if not more.
“I also often say to people to simply not comment on people’s body size or shape. Even if you think you are giving a compliment, you never know how someone may take that comment. Losing weight is not always healthy, and not always intentional – it could be a result of illness, stress, medications etc.”