Sarah Francati is sharing a very personal journey on social media. (Photo: Instagram/Sarah Francati)
Sarah Francati isn’t your average teenager. The 19-year-old college student from New York is sharing her recovery from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa on social media. And as a result, thousands of people are cheering her on while many others are seeking guidance.
“I made the account a year ago to keep myself focused,” she tells Yahoo Beauty. “I was so surprised when people started to reach out to me because I never thought that anyone would even care. If I really think about [it], I’m 19. I’m not a doctor, I’m not a counselor; I’m just one girl. And the fact that there are women, there are men, there are teens coming to me, asking for help — that is huge to me. I can’t ask for anything else.”
At the request of her mother, Francati was admitted to the hospital during her freshman year of high school when her weight plummeted to 80 pounds. After counselors asked that she leave a recovery center because of her inability to follow the program — “It was awful! I would tell them I was allergic to food, I was vegan, I would cut as many corners as I could not to eat anything”—Francati moved home, where she found relief by using The Maudsley Approach, which is an intensive outpatient treatment in which parents play an active, positive role in their child’s recovery.
“It was the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” she says. “I know that obviously it doesn’t work for everyone because some people need a hospital or a bigger wakeup call. But once my parents and siblings were involved, I felt that I wasn’t alone anymore. I had a support system and I wasn’t fighting this by myself. I had a team.”
Four years later, more than 25,000 people are following Francati’s journey on Instagram, where she showcases her muscle tone, her stylish workout clothes, and her favorite foods. And while many people offer praise, others only offer criticism.
Francati shares her progress on Instagram. (Photo: Instagram/Sarah Francati)
“Yes, there are comments from people who seem to love to go out of their way to bring me down,” she says. “I definitely debated it [sharing her journey on Instagram] for a long time because I’m a college student, and you always have to wonder, ‘Who’s going to find my account? Who’s going to pick on me about it?’ But at the end of the day, if I can just impact one person, I will take all the hate.”
Francati isn’t the only young adult who is willing to use social media as a platform to share their personal struggle with anorexia. Elle Tayla, Carolyn Radnor, Alexis Corneau, and Ambs G have created YouTube videos of their emotional journeys, which collectively have been viewed by millions of people.
“The first thing I want to say is let’s applaud anybody who is sharing their story of recovery because that takes such great bravery,” Robyn Cruze, a National Recovery Advocate and online community manger for Eating Recovery Center, tells Yahoo Beauty.
“Eating disorders are mental illnesses, and that means we have a lot of things that we must overcome mentally, so to be able to share our story is such a courageous thing,” she continues. “And when we use our story in the right way— to bring hope and inspiration to those recovering from eating disorders — it is a really powerful tool for recovery and for those seeking it.”
However, exposing your vulnerability on social media could have a negative effect on the individual who is posting, as well as those who are desperately searching for answers.
“When we’re sharing our story and still struggling in our own recovery, I think we have to question how we’re keeping ourselves safe,” says Cruze. “For example, when I share my story, I share it because I know I’m not attached to that story — it’s so far away from me, there’s a difference between me and the person that I was. So I’m using my story to make a difference by sharing solutions of recovery, like what I did mentally, what did I in my treatment, and that I sought therapy.”
Francati is focused on getting stronger day by day. (Photo: Instagram/Sarah Francati)
Yet problems may arise if someone is not as detached from their experience when they share it with the masses.
“Those of us who have been in an eating disorder [situation] believe that the eating disorder will give us something powerful that we can’t give ourselves,” explains Cruze. “Maybe we believe the eating disorder will make us more lovable, maybe it will make us feel that we’re in control. Now if we’re still struggling for those [goals] and we’re on social media and people say things that might be positive or negative, that can impact us and, therefore, our recovery progress. We have a responsibility first to keep ourselves safe.”
She’s also uneasy about how the audience — especially people who are suffering from a disease and seeking treatment — will interpret the messages. “Whether we like it or not, there are a lot of images that people in recovery will find triggering,” says Cruze. “For example, we can have the best intentions of saying, ‘This is how sick I have been. Here, take a look at a photo.’ But if somebody is in anorexia nervosa and they’re struggling, they may look at that photo and think, ‘She’s thinner than me — I’m not sick enough!’”
But Cruze emphasizes the enormous respect she has for Francati’s courage, and says she’d make an effective recovery advocator. “I don’t want this young lady to ever get to a stage where she’s struggling and where she feels that she has to put out this façade because now she’s on social media,” said Cruze. “And that can be very shaming and triggering for herself. That is my concern for her.”
But for now, Francati says she would “never” leave social media, even during a difficult time being caused by potential body shamers.
“If anything, that would fuel my fire more!” she says. “If I back down, what does that say about me? I’ll never let the bad guys win. You have to do what’s best for you and for the other people who are struggling, too. We’re a team. … I have a global support system where I can reach out to people all across the world. It’s just amazing.”
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