"If you realize that you may be struggling with severe negative body-image or an eating disorder, take a leap and tell someone you trust. Everyone struggles with something. You are not alone."

Ivy Souter just graduated from high school and is on her way to Lousiana State University. She will not only be entering a new school but a new chapter in her life. Ivy has struggled with anorexia and body image issues since the age of 10, but she's now on a path towards healing and recovery. And guess what?

She's ready to take the world by storm!

Every Ella: Hi Ivy! Tell us about yourself.

Ivy Souter: I live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where I have lived all my life. My parents are separated and I split my time equally between my two homes. I graduated on May 22nd from St. Joseph’s Academy, an all-girls Catholic school in Baton Rouge. I have gone there all 4 years of high-school. I am going to attend Louisiana State University majoring is Psychology. Before all of that, I attending a Catholic elementary/middle-school also in Baton Rouge. I went there for 10 years. I started there in Pre-Kindergarten and graduated from eighth grade. I absolutely love animals. I have two dogs, two cats and a hedgehog. As far as hobbies go, I danced for 13 years. I even competed on a team for about 5 years from age eight to age twelve. I no longer dance due to my eating disorder. I currently find my creative outlet with visual art including drawing/sketching and painting. I also practice yoga and meditation as therapeutic skills, but also because I very much enjoy practicing them.

Your struggles with body image and anorexia began with an earth shattering day when you were just 10 years old. Can you tell us about that day?

Well, this day was the day that my parents sat me down and told me they were getting a divorce. This was shocking to me at the time. We never really talked about it as a family either. I had no control over the situation whatsoever and I had noone to talk freely to about it. I began bottling up my feeling and coping with it in negative ways.

You began compulsive binge eating due to this. What was this like for you?

I used food for relief from how I felt about my parent’s divorce. It also was something I could control when I couldn’t control anything that was going on in my life. My parents were splitting up and I had no say in that. Food provided relief and a sense of control. When I started getting bullied for my weight, I engaged in binge-eating because I told myself there was no way I could change their opinion about me so I kept binging. It also provided relief from the feeling I felt as a result of the bullying. I felt ashamed, guilty, angry, sad, embarrassed, lonely. The list goes on.

What made you change your eating habits and then turn to anorexia?

The first prescription I was given for my binge-eating was to eat healthier, exercise and as a result I would lose weight. No one saw what I was dealing with internally and only saw my weight increase. The primary method for people who are overweight is to exercise and diet. I was tired of hearing everyone tell me what I needed to do and with the way society viewed being thin, I immediately equated a decrease in weight to an increase in happiness. People would like me I would no longer be bullied. My parents would be proud of me. So the summer before I started high-school, I started to eat “healthier,” exercise and lose weight. The compliments came rapidly. I loved watching the number decrease. Freshman year came, academic and social stress compound so, I began to use food again to help me feel relieved. When I made a bad grade, I made myself feel better by binging. I gained the weight back and more. When I tried on a dress for a dance that had fit me months earlier and it wouldn’t fit, I stepped on the scale and was extremely upset by the number. After that, I vowed I would lose all of the weight I had gained. I began eating “healthier” again and exercising. This spiraled into my anorexia. I began counting calories, weighing excessively, over-exercising and severely restricting my food intake.

Were you checked into recovery facilities?

Yes, I have by inpatient 3 times in the same facility in New Orleans, Louisiana called River Oaks, Eating Disorder Treatment Center. I was diagnosed in late July 2014 just before my Junior year in high-school began. I went inpatient for the first time in October 2014 for 4 weeks. After I left, I relapsed and ended up checking myself back into treatment in May 2015. I stayed there for 6 weeks. I stayed in recovery for a longer amount of time but ended up re-entering inpatient in December 2015 for only 2 weeks. That was the last time I went inpatient. I’m currently in recovery and receiving treatment on an outpatient level.

Do you feel like you have a good support system of friends and family?

I believe I do. Although the recovery community is small here in Baton Rouge, I have found a support system locally and I’m very thankful. I have two mentors and of course my treatment team as well as my parents who have helped me throughout my recovery journey. I am so grateful for them.

What is the hardest part of your recovery?

Well, that’s is a difficult question. I don’t really think there is one specific thing that is the most difficult in my recovery. Recovery is a full-time job and sometimes it can be difficult to focus on recovery as well as keep up with everything life throws at you. It’s hard to not let overwhelming things compound on you to cause you to go back to disordered behaviors or put your recovery to the side. Recovery is what is most important and sometimes it is hard to stick by that, but I’m working on it.

Do you feel that you are fully recovered or do you still struggle with body image issues?

I do not consider myself fully recovered. I still struggle. Somedays are better than others. I consider myself in recovery because I still have disordered thoughts and I have lapses sometimes where I will engage in a behavior once instead of consecutively which would be considered a relapse. I hope to one day be able to say that I am recovered. As far as body image issues go, I definitely still struggle. In treatment, you are told that in eating disorder recovery, body image issues is the last aspect of your eating disorder to go away. Almost every woman struggles with low self-esteem and negative body-image so it would make sense that it is the hardest thing to get rid of since it has been ingrained into you for so long, but I do hope that one day my “bad body-image days” are few and far between and when I have these days I don’t even bother to consider my eating disorder behavior an option.

What do you like to do for fun?

I have always been an artistic person. I started dance at the age of 2, but I had to stop dancing due to complications with my health from my anorexia. I enjoy doing visual art including drawing and painting. I also enjoy doing yoga. I absolutely love movies and reading. I don’t favor one over the other, I enjoy both. Of course, I love to spend time with friends. In recovery, I have been more open to doing that again. The eating disorder caused me to isolate and not go on social outings. I am extroverted so socializing is good for my mental health, but I’ve also found that I need sometime to myself too and that is where I find myself drawing and painting.

You also started a blog called What is your blog about and what do you hope to achieve with it?

Honestly, I’m going with the flow. I will follow it wherever it may go. I started it because I wanted to share my story and educate the public about eating disorders. I wanted to reduce the shame and open up about something that is very often seen as taboo. I wanted to show people that someone close to you may be suffering from an eating disorder or another mental illness that you cannot tell what is going on. Many people with eating disorders and mental illnesses suffer in silence and that is what causes them to be fatal. It is scary to reach out and get help or reach out and help someone but I want them to know that I have done it and I’m so grateful I did. I also just wanted to share the ups and downs of recovery and what it is like for someone. I would for it to reach a wider audience because I just want more people to be informed about eating disorders and help or give hope to those suffering.

What are your goals for the future?

I want to be an advocate for mental health, specifically eating disorders. I am going to LSU for psychology and I wish to attend graduate school after to receive my Ph.D. I would love to practice at a treatment center and maybe have my own outpatient practice on the side. Ultimately I want to open up my own treatment center for eating disorders somewhere in the United States. I want to learn, study and discover to better help those who are struggling all over the world. I also want to lobby in Washington D.C. for mental health insurance coverage for eating disorders and other mental illnesses. I have struggled as many do with insurance to cover my inpatient stays and outpatient treatment. It’s been exhausting for both me and my parents. I no longer want families to have to go through that in order to receive treatment. Having someone dealing with an eating disorder already causes a lot of friction and financial burdens just make it worse. I have a lot of dreams and a lot of places I want to go. I’m so grateful for the people I have connected with so far and I look forward to my future without my eating disorder.

Name one woman who has inspired you.

At the beginning of my recovery, I learned about an organization called Southern Smash created and run by McCall Dempsey. Southern Smash goes around school campuses including colleges and high-schools. McCall shares her story of battling and overcoming an eating disorder after there is a scale SMASHing. When I first discovered her website, I knew I wanted to meet McCall and participate in a Southern Smash event. I actually got the chance to do that in early April and it was amazing. McCall is actually a alumni of my high-school in Baton Rouge. She no longer lives here however but she comes back regularly to visit and participate in events for Southern Smash. McCall is one of the most inspiring women I have ever met. She has inspired me throughout my recovery and she continues to inspire me in my recovery today. She has done so much for the eating disorder recovery community and she has overcome so much. She is so strong and shows me how great recovery can be.

What advice do you have for girls struggling with anorexia or body image issues?

Reach out. You are not alone. You are not weird or unusual. In fact most girls/women if not all experience negative body image whether they realize it is an issue or not. If you realize that you may be struggling with severe negative body-image, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or an eating disorder, take a leap and tell someone you trust, whether it’s a friend, family member, therapist, boyfriend, girlfriend. It is important to seek help and be open about what we as human beings are dealing with. Everyone struggles with something. You are not alone.