An anorexic teenager was just hours from death after taking no food and water for a week in a desperate bid to become popular at school.
Elle Lietzow, then 17, refused to let even a drop of water touch her lips at the height of her struggle with anorexia, when her weight plummeted to under five and a half stone.
After a week of fasting, Elle collapsed with a seizure and was rushed to hospital. She was in such poor condition, doctors and nurses were astonished she was still alive.
Elle admitted to losing weight because she thought that being skinny would make her popular amongst her peers.
Elle, now 19, from Melbourne, Australia, was cruelly taunted by her peers as a young girl.
Although she was just a few pounds overweight, school kids would kick and push her and chant ‘fat whale’ as she walked through the playground.
After joining the swimming team, her strenuous training schedule of six hours a day meant she lost her extra weight and gained lots of friends.
But the punishing regime took a toll on her burgeoning social life.
Although she reached the Olympic swimming trials at the age of 15, Elle decided to give up on the sport and focus on school and her friends.
‘I wanted to stay skinny just to be accepted by everyone,’ says Elle. ‘I had gained so many friends when I lost weight accidentally during my swimming and everyone would compliment me.
‘I thought, if I quit swimming I am going to have to keep that low weight so that people would still want to be my friends, because if I gain weight no-one would want to be my friend anymore.’
She overcompensated for the loss of her swimming by working out for two hours before school and going on long hikes near her home.
She started to eat just fish and vegetables but as her disorder worsened she would eat only steamed cabbage and just the skin of an apple.
She was soon hospitalised for the first time.
Her family and friends nagged her to gain weight, leading Elle to binge on tubs of icing, slabs of chocolate, boxes of doughnuts and huge wedges of cake.
‘I was punishing my body, I didn’t want to put on weight but my family and friends were so angry and frustrated,’ explains Elle.
‘I hated how I felt. I felt disgusting. It was just gross. I hated the way I looked and I wouldn’t leave the house.
‘I ballooned to 174lb and felt so sick with myself I decided last year to lose it all again.
‘Healthy eating turned into only eating a salad or steamed cabbage at dinner, loaded in salt. Then I cut out food completely.’
In just a few months Elle lost almost seven stone.
Getting out of bed would become a huge effort and Elle was forced to stay home from school.
Her toes and fingers lost their circulation and her nails became brittle, black and snapped easily.
Her long blonde hair fell out in clumps, her periods stopped and she became so emaciated her hips and ribs jutted out from under her skin.
She didn’t realise it then, but Elle was close to death.
‘My body was giving me warning signs that what I was doing was killing me. I need to stop,’ she says.
But it wasn’t just her body that was shutting down, her relationships with her parents and friends were in jeopardy too.
‘I constantly lied to my family and friends with what I ate and when I exercised,’ admits Elle.
In one last attempt to lose weight she stopped eating and drinking water altogether.
After a week of starvation, where not even a drop of water had touched her lips, Elle had a thirst she had never felt before.
She made her way to the bathroom and filled a glass of water. After just one sip, her body started to convulse and she suffered her worst seizure.
She awoke lying on the bathroom tiles with shards of glass and water around her.
It was then she realised she needed help.
‘I just had no energy anymore. I knew I was dying,’ she says.
Elle finally confessed to her mother Madonna how she had been starving herself and she rushed her to hospital.
She was immediately admitted and doctors found her liver and kidneys had gone into failure.
Her condition was so serious, medical staff couldn’t believe she was still alive.
It was then Elle realised she needed to make a permanent change. She became a vegan and in a show of support her sister and mum joined her.
Now Elle’s typical day includes two papayas, four apples, four kiwis and five bananas for breakfast, two sweet potatoes with avocado salsa for lunch and Thai curry soup and at least one baked potato for dinner.
‘My life has changed since my recovery. I’m now social, I go out with friends and I don’t isolate myself,’ says Elle.
‘I try to inspire others through my Instagram and YouTube with my vegan lifestyle.
‘A message I have for those suffering with anorexia at the moment is that only you can save yourself. You have to make the change to choose life.’