“Nothing good will ever come from hating yourself”: Ava Burmahl’s journey


Heartlin Photography, Ava Burmhal

Senior Ava Burmahl is involved in choir, jazz choir, and theater. She plans to major in theater in college at an undecided school.

Karin Fowler, Sports Editor

The idea that if a person can’t fit into an extra small or a double zero creates a false notion of what a beautiful body should be. This mindset makes it harder for people to see themselves in the mirror without wanting to hack away at their flesh, or step on the scale and feel the power of the number crush them from the inside. The harsh reality behind the “beautiful body” is often hidden, and people are left thinking that the only way this is obtainable is through starvation and never holding down your meals. 

From 2000 to 2018, the amount of people globally diagnosed with eating disorders increased from 3.4% to 7.8%. Approximately 70 million people are currently battling with eating disorders, with 30 million just in the United States. 

Throughout middle and high school, Senior Ava Burmahl has battled with her own body image issues and food insecurities. 

This is her story. 

Summer before her 8th grade, Burmahl’s eating disorder journey began. What started off as just mild food insecurity, quickly worsened. Going unnoticed by everyone including herself, Burmahl lived in a state of denial. It wasn’t until that December, when her mother started to take notice of her weight change, that she finally sought medical help. She was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. She was told she was to leave her family, friends and everything about her once normal life behind and go live in an inpatient facility.

While most teens were spending their winter break opening presents on Christmas morning, sledding in the snow and ice skating, Burmahl spent hers in inpatient care with no contact of her outside world beyond from letters and scheduled phone calls. “Though this time was very emotionally taxing on me,” Burmahl said. “It was really scary at first, knowing I’d have to stay here and not be able to leave for an undetermined amount of time.”

For five weeks, Burmahl’s home was the Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, one of the best behavioral health facilities in the country. Burmahl found herself getting into a routine that was anything but normal to the average teen. “Waking up early to be weighed, get blood drawn, shower, have our vitals checked and eat breakfast at a scheduled time was pretty difficult.” Burmahl continued, describing how her days were scheduled out for meals, “3 meals and 3 snacks at the same time every day; CBT time [Cognitive Behavioral Therapy] meeting with different kinds of specialists.” 

Although this time was full of unknowns for her, she was happy to have the support of her family and friends as a constant in her life. “My friends from back home were always there for me, too. People sent letters and scheduled phone calls just to check up on me. I was really grateful to have such a great support system during that time in my life.” Another struggle was school. 

Destined to fall behind, Burmahl said a lot of her teachers were gracious due to her situation. 

After spending five weeks in this facility, Burmahl was transferred to a partial hospitalization program, which she described as being similarly structured to that of a school day. “This was a lot more enjoyable for me, because for one, I was allowed to have my phone and now I could listen to music,” Burmahl said. She would arrive in the morning and stay throughout the day, leaving in the afternoon, then get her weekends off. Burmahl spent four months in this program.

Throughout this process she was grateful for the support she received, “My counselors were really awesome and helpful for our recovery journeys,” Burmahl said. Along with excellent help she also made a lot of friends who shared this experience with her. “Me and the other handful of people who were also enlisted in PHP would show up and we’d catch up with each other, have individual work time, do group activities,” Burmahl continued, “I still keep in touch with some of them today, four years later.”

Recovery wasn’t an easy path for Burmahl, it was “never a steady uphill climb” but rather full of constant bumps in the road. Noting that everyday is a struggle, some being harder than others, “I’ve come a long way in these last few years, learning how to accept and take care of myself,” Burmahl said. 

Coming back was a difficult process for Burmahl. “It was really weird coming back to school for the first time after I came back home, with everyone asking questions and talking to me about where I was,” Burmahl continued. She turned to humor as a way to cope with an uncomfortable situation and make light of it as a part of her healing process. 

As eating disorders and body image issues continue to affect the lives of many, Burmahl says, “Don’t be afraid to reach out for help.” 

As the stigma surrounding the perfect body continues to taint the minds of teenagers and young adults around the world, it is important to seek help if needed.