"I couldn't ever imagine a life where I FINALLY got to be happy or where food and calories didn't dictate my every move."

By Susan Brickell
Updated May 22, 2018
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In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, model and body image activist Charli Howard shared a transformation post, revealing how her body has changed for the better after surviving an eating disorder. One image shows Howard in jeans and a tank during a time in her life when she felt weak and unhappy; the other image shows her rocking a black bra and panties, highlighting her confidence, self-worth, and love for her present, healthier body.

“My life on the left was miserable… I felt I had to pretend that I was happy, so that my secret bulimia and obsessive low-calorie diets wouldn’t be discovered," she captioned the photo. "I wanted people to believe I was genuinely this thin and felt like a total liar.”

In her post, Howard recalls her eating disorder making her feel unsuccessful, unloved, ugly, and a waste of space. She says she wanted to become invisible; losing weight wasn’t necessarily about getting skinny, but rather an attempt to shed her insecurities. There were even times Howard says she wished to not exist. “I couldn't ever imagine a life where I FINALLY got to be happy or where food and calories didn't dictate my every move,” she wrote in her caption.

Today, Howard uses social media to encourage women to not worry about perceived flaws such as stretch marks, cellulite, or having a “squishy” tummy. (She uses #squishysundays to show followers that she’s proud of her figure.) She recently posted a modeling photo of herself, in which she says she's gained 19 pounds in the last two years and is "so much happier."

And her body-positivity influence in the mental health world doesn't stop there. She is the co-founder of the All Woman Project, a women-for-women movement spreading the message of inclusion, diversity, and self-love, and also the author of Misfit: One Size Does Not Fit All ($15; amazon.com), a memoir about her childhood obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and eating disorders.

RELATED: 9 Ways to Help a Friend With an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders and anxiety disorders often go hand-in-hand: Two-thirds of people with an eating disorder also have an anxiety disorder. Obsessive-compulsive disorder seems to have the strongest association with eating disorders.

In a prior interview, bariatric psychologist Paul Davidson, PhD, director of behavioral services at the Center for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told Health that having control is a big part of both eating disorders and anxiety. Food restriction may start as a coping mechanism, he explained. "We can’t stop breathing, but we can control how much fluid we take in or what we eat." In the case of an eating disorder, what began as a coping mechanism can quickly become dangerous.

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Howard emphasizes that eating disorders are a cry for help. She recognizes that it’s a difficult road to recovery–and one that must start from within. “You’ve got to start loving yourself on the inside first.”