When your wellness journey is so extraordinary that you inspire thousands of people daily, you know you’re doing something right. But it’s a special kind of victory when the road you’ve traveled to arrive at self-love has included detours of addiction, mental illness and eating disorders.
The five women below have not only transformed their bodies from malnourished to magnificent — they’ve undergone a complete metamorphosis of mind, body, and soul.
Maris Degener has packed a lot of life into her 20 years. The California native had already survived painful bouts of anxiety, depression, anorexia, and eating disorders by the time she decided to give herself the gift of yoga at 14; by 16, she’d become a certified yoga instructor.
Today, Deneger is an Instagram inspiration who radiates the strength and confidence of women twice her age. She’s even working on a documentary called “I Am Maris” about her journey toward healing. Although her body is strong, it’s her inner transformation that has truly empowered her.
“So often we hand over our happiness to other people, other things,” she writes. “Happiness is not something that can be attained … it is something that is created, harvested, and nurtured when the time is right.”
For 15 years — and starting at age 8 — Holly Griffiths was stuck in a cycle of recovery and relapse, describing herself as “consumed by darkness” during her lowest periods, which involved sexual abuse and mental health battles. Her anorexia even led to a heart condition, arthritis, and osteoporosis.
Her turning point, as bleak as it sounds, was the realization that she didn’t want to die. So in October 2017, she joined a gym and got serious about getting healthy. Today the 27-year-old mom of one works out three days a week and eats three to four meals a day. Her message to anyone dealing with eating disorders is that everyone’s recovery journey looks different.
She writes, “Whatever works for you is what you’re supposed to do.”
Eight years ago, Morgan Dowd was barely surviving bulimia and anorexia. By age 19, she’d had enough of fearing food and overdoing it with cardio. So she committed to a 24-day wellness and nutrition challenge — and she credits it with saving her life.
She decided to get strong instead of “skinny” by incorporating healthy doses of strength training into her workouts up to 5 days a week. Instead of counting calories, she now adheres to intuitive eating — letting her body tell her what and when to eat. Now, instead of barely surviving, the 28-year-old Dowd is a successful personal trainer. She tells her followers and clients that it takes just 66 days to break a bad habit and start a new one — like living healthy.
(Ed’s note: It looks like Dowd did her homework! A University College London study found the average time it takes to form a new habit is 66 days, though it should be noted that habit formation varied by person from 18 days all the way up to 254 days. In other words: Don’t beat yourself up if you still are working to form a new habit after Day 66.)
Sarah Ramadan is a perfectionist, but in her early years she channeled that focus into an unhealthy endeavor: starving herself in pursuit of what she thought was her ideal figure. By 19, she was anorexic, anemic, wheelchair-bound, and coping with a heart condition. At one point, she was admitted to a long-term intensive care facility.
Then something changed: She acknowledged the pain at the root of her disease and decided to fight for her health instead. She began lifting weights at the encouragement of her brother and viewing food as energy instead of the enemy. She chronicles her progress on Instagram and YouTube, where the muscular 23-year-old has become an icon.
Ramadan doesn’t sugarcoat her current life, though. She often talks candidly about her setbacks and anxiety attacks — but still, she perseveres.
“I make strength my only option,” she writes.
Janelle Flanagan is not your typical mom of four from suburban New Jersey.
The 43-year-old survived anorexia in her 20s, only to fall into a pattern of overeating and alcohol abuse throughout most of her 30s. By 37, she’d had her fill of self-loathing and decided to flip the script. She committed herself to a healthy diet and fitness regimen that included HIIT and weight lifting. She was so empowered she even became a personal trainer.
She tells her 45,000 Instagram followers that biggest lesson she’s learned is that the human body has a miraculous ability to bounce back beautifully from years of abuse.
“Look at how capable our bodies are of change,” she writes. “Flaws? Scars? Some cellulite? Seriously? After all I’ve done to my own body? How did I ever complain about this when I’m still here?”