An anorexia survivor who once ate just one apple a day has credited TOWIE star Lucy Mecklenburgh with her helping her rediscover a passion for fitness.
Esther da Costa, 32 from Surrey was diagnosed with anorexia and depression at 17 and suffered two relapses over the next few years, reaching her lowest weight of just 6 stone at the age of 24.
She became so thin, she was forced to wear clothes designed for 12-year-olds while her skin turned yellow from liver failure, she developed osteoporosis and lost much of her hair.
But after discovering Results with Lucy – which promotes healthy nutrition, yoga and eating carbohydrates – Esther began her long journey to recovery, eventually returning to a healthy weight and mindset. She is now a size 10.
Between the ages of three and 17 Esther was a dancer, taking part in ballet classes where she believes her eating problems all began.
Esther recalled: ‘I noticed that because I was taller than the other girls in class, I was also bigger than them.
‘My teacher called me big once, even though I was slim and a healthy weight, and that stuck with me.
‘As well as ballet I also did athletics and swam for my county, so I didn’t have the perfect small ballerina figure like the other girls.
‘I was in Year 9 (aged 13-14) when I really began to battle with my body image. I dreaded being seen in my leotard and that was the year I stopped eating chocolate, crisps, my school lunch and some dinners at home.
‘It wasn’t until my time doing A-levels that my dieting became restriction, coupled with over exercise and my mood suddenly plummeted.
‘I took on four very heavy A-levels whereas most of my friends took on one or two. I had to stop going out with them to study and fit in my part time job.
‘Over a few months my “friends” began ignoring me in and out of school, leaving me out and isolating me. I felt so lost confused and hurt by people I’d been friends with for nearly six years.
‘I buried myself in my studies and stopped eating at all at school. I allowed myself one apple between the hours of 8pm and 5pm and drank water only.’
Esther’s mum managed to convince her to see a therapist and in March 2004 she had her first session. Although therapy initially helped Esther, in June 2008, at the age of 22, she relapsed.
‘I got a promotion at work which meant longer hours, bigger targets, a lot of client socialising and deep down none of it made me happy,’ Esther explained.
‘I felt somewhere inside I was lying to myself, but the job was good and so was the pay, so I hid my feelings and I joined the gym.
‘I would go to the gym before work which meant leaving my house at 6am, allowing myself enough time to walk the 40 minutes it took to get there.
‘I would run on the treadmill for an hour then I would go to work feeling happy which I thought of as “the buzz”. The problem was that come lunch, the buzz had worn off.
‘My boss used to say “lunch was for wimps” which was meant in a jokey, tongue in cheek way, but I internalised it and felt so guilty for feeling hungry that I would go back to the gym at lunchtime for another hour on the treadmill.
‘Then, some nights after work I would go back to the gym so that I could end the day on a high.
‘I was weighing myself at the gym and got a huge sense of accomplishment seeing the numbers dropping.
‘I was completely addicted to using exercise to lift my mood and starving myself to feel worthy to be alive.’
Esther’s relapse lasted a total of six months and saw her drop from 8 stone 12 lbs down to 7 stone 4 lbs.
In January 2009, through continued therapy and the support of her family Esther managed once again to gain control over her eating disorder, although her mind was still very fragile.
It was one year later that Esther suffered her most extreme relapse to date. It began in January 2010 and lasted six months. For Esther, it felt like she had hit the self-destruct button and this time, her body found it hard to recover.
‘I was working as a secretary and after a few months a colleague began to treat me unfairly and unkindly. She made me feel worthless and it was like a fire was ignited in my brain and I couldn’t cope.
‘I promised my boyfriend (now husband) I would never join a gym again, but I felt so low that I needed a distraction and the lift of exercise. So, instead of joining a gym I bought home DVDs and made up my own routines that were all cardio based.
‘During this time, I would exercise at home before work, run home at lunch to exercise and then again after work. Within six months I had shrunk down to my lowest weight ever; I weighed 6 stone.’
Esther’s body was incredibly tired from her previous relapses and so this time, things were much worse.
‘My liver failed, and I was yellow. I was bald in places and my heart had shrunk and become seriously slow. My bones had developed osteoporosis. My skin was cut and bruised from exercise and sitting down.’
In 2015, Esther was discharged from therapy and this was the same year she discovered yoga and forged a friendship with Cecilia Harris and Lucy Mecklenburgh, co-founders of online fitness, nutrition and health platform Results with Lucy.
She said: ‘I was amazed that a fitness company promoted eating carbs, the food I avoided religiously when anorexic. They also promoted rest days which shocked me because my anorexic belief was that I had to exercise seven days a week.’
Following the fitness programme, as well as yoga, regular therapy sessions and support from Cecelia helped Esther along her way to recovery.
She said: ‘I hope to one day write a book on all my experiences and to show how yoga has healed my world and can heal others too.’