Hannah Koestler, 22, is finally able to smile again, but for years this beautiful young girl was desperately struggling for her life. Hannah nearly died of starvation. And the worst part? Her mind was the thing that convinced her to stop eating.
Hannah was struck by the disease anorexia nervosa at a young age. She associates the onset of her illness with her family's tendency to move around a lot. She often felt lonely and craved a sense of stability.
Hannah was born in Austria, but has lived in countries all over the world, including China, South Korea, the United States, and Japan. She believes this transiency was the root cause of her illness. She struggled to make any lasting friendships and was constantly tossed into vastly unfamiliar environments. Controlling what she ate was one way she felt she could create some stability in her life. At first, she just stopped eating fast food, but then she starting making stricter and stricter rules for herself until she was barely "allowed" to eat anything.
Hannah shed pounds rapidly, but she was never satisfied with the results. She stopped eating all fat and carbohydrates. All that she deemed okay to eat was tofu and steamed vegetables. When Hannah was 17, she was a tall 5'11" and weighed just 115 pounds. Her face looked sunken in and her hair was falling out. Finally, her parents took her to the doctor.
The only advice given was that her parents should cook more often at home and stay with their daughter while she ate her meals. But that didn't help anything since Hannah would get really upset if she felt forced to eat something that wasn't on her list of allowed foods. She even threw a bowl of noodles at her mom once when she saw there was a bit of Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. Hannah recalls, "My mom did her best to help me, but I wouldn't allow it. Thankfully she was able to distinguish between me and my illness." Despite the difficulties, Hannah regained some weight and graduated from secondary school. Her body mass index (BMI) was around 17; a healthy body weight/BMI is considered somewhere between 18-24. Her parents were pleased by her progress and were convinced that she was ready to live on her own in Austria. She seemed to be back to her "normal" self again.
Hannah's grandfather lived nearby and he was going to be keeping an eye on her while her parents were away in Japan. But as soon as her parents were gone, Hannah began limiting her food again, but this time she was even more strict. At one point she was only consuming three rice cakes and drinking a single glass of water a day.
"It got so bad that I'd weigh myself 10 times a day," said Hannah. Her weight fell to just 65 pounds and she was wearing child-sized clothes. Her circulation was terrible and her organs were under duress. When her grandfather hadn't heard from her for a few days and she wouldn't answer the door, he called the ambulance. The EMTs broke down the door and found Hannah lying on the floor. The rescuers couldn't believe that the skeleton they saw before them could possibly still be alive.
The next thing Hannah remembers is the hospital bed where she was being fed through a tube in her nose. "The doctors told me that I would've probably died if they found me a few days later," Hannah said. It took five months before Hannah was released from the hospital. She then moved to a day clinic where she received intensive therapy. She had to learn to have a vastly different relationship with food. She spent 10 months visiting that clinic, learning how it feels to eat regular meals and what nutrients her body requires.
Slowly but surely, Hannah began gaining weight. She's been documenting her changing body on Instagram. There she wrote, "I know that the photos look crazy, but I want to show others what this illness can lead to. And they remind how far I've come." She quickly gained over 100,000 followers, most of whom offer words of encouragement, thanking her for her courage in sharing her story.
Hannah is slowly figuring out how to eat well again with the help of behavioral therapy (rewards when she eats healthily). Her weight has returned to a level within "normal" range and she's starting to enjoy food again. But her fight with anorexia is long from over. Her Instagram account is called "Prosperous Healthy Life," where she showcases photos and healthy recipes. You can see how much better she is doing now.
Hannah knows she has a long road ahead of her, but she's very grateful for the support she gets from her followers and feels like she isn't alone on her journey. She knows that she'll beat this illness.
Her photos show what's possible when you get the help you need. She looks like a different person today and she's happy that she feels like she can enjoy life once again. It's hard to believe that these are all pictures of the same girl.
Hannah is now studying in England where she's joined the rowing team. "Hiding the truth is not the answer. Anorexia is a horrible disease. But you can get a hold of it. I know I never want to be back where I was," said Hannah. Hopefully, Hannah will stay on the right track and keep her weight up. She is such a gorgeous girl and it sounds like she has a bright future ahead of her.