Hana Mahle, college sophomore, struggles with more than hard classes, boy drama, or writer’s block. She struggles with the fear of choking and the anxieties of dying.
By: Miranda Evon
It takes Hana Mahle thirty minutes to eat a medium sized bowl of pasta. You’ll never find her without a glass of water being held between her frail hands. She orders more food than she can consume, and always leaves behind leftovers. After she accidentally eats something spicy, she has to chug water for ten minutes to even get a word out of her mouth. Hana still struggles with eating heavy and solid foods.
Hana struggles with Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, also known as ARFID, hers specifically is the fear of choking when eating solid foods. Her disease is different from what is commonly associated with eating disorders: the urge of wanting to lose weight purposefully, not eating, and body dysmorphia. It’s been four years since she was diagnosed. A year and a half of that has been her getting acquainted with recovering alone while at college.
Hana attends Savannah College of Art and Design, and each day includes an extra push of effort. Her major is that extra push of effort. Pushing her to get better so she can help others get better—through changing the world of beauty. Hana already struggles with anxiety, specifically the fear of dying, but she never thought it would one day turn into an eating disorder.
At fifteen-years-old Hana lost a lot the April of 2014. Death has always been a touchy subject to Hana, but she was suddenly stuck in the middle of it all when her grandfather died, she lost her family pet, and her dad was diagnosed with cancer. Hana’s body started to not process death and grief well, so whenever she started to eat, it felt like she was choking.
Eating became hard. The idea of choking and dying was so plausible to her. “I was trying to eat a sandwich, totally normal thing to do when I suddenly couldn’t swallow,” Hana says. “At the moment I just said nope, never again. I’m going to choke and die.”
That moment kicked off her three years of struggle to swallow solid foods. Hana started watching her body grow smaller and smaller, “that was the worst part about it all. Losing myself, and hating my body.”
Hana sits passenger in my Fiat, swallowed by dark clothing and looks as if I’m driving her to a funeral. Her hair takes up majority of her figure and she says she’s growing it to be like Lorde’s. She’s quiet, nodding her head slowly along to a song by Vampire Weekend—the bass rattling my doors. Her large, oval eyes are hidden behind knock-off Dior sunglasses, shading them from the early morning sun. She tells me everything she’s planning on getting at Trader Joe’s: Snap peas, sushi, lemonade. “I’m really craving a buttery croissant, you?” She asks, while writing a small note in the corner of her journal. It looks like a reminder to herself: One year of recovery: celebratory tacos with friends.
The sophomore at Savannah College of Art and Design keeps herself busy. “My survival instinct didn’t kick in until I was on my own,” Hana says. Referring to her freshmen year. Keeping herself occupied kept her motivated. Immersing herself in her classes help keep her afloat mentally. Hana tries staying busy being Beauty Editor at The Manor—the school’s fashion blog—taking three courses, and all her side projects. You’d never be aware she still struggles.
However she isn’t afraid to eat anymore. Hana hates when people assume she has a dislikes eating or is skinny by choice. She enjoys a good shiitake fried burger from Shake Shack, eats non-spicy Chinese food over friends houses on Friday’s, and brings Nutella and strawberry crepes to Wednesday’s 3-D design class. “I can easily eat a whole cake,” she says.
She still struggles with putting on weight and dealing with medical issues because of what she did to her body, however. Recovery is still relearning how to eat and feeling comfortable with eating. One year into recovery and she’s putting everything she’s learned into action with her beauty courses. Majoring in the Business of Beauty and Fragrance gives her the power to try and change the beauty world.
“I don’t want people to think of the beauty industry as skinny, deathly-looking girls and guys,” she says. “I want people to feel beautiful in the bodies that were given to them. I mean, I miss the body I used to have.”
Hana struggles with being on the other end of the spectrum, and she doesn’t want anyone wishing they were in her position. While celebrating her one year of recovery with a large bowl of salsa and chips—Hana promises to leave her mark in the beauty and cosmetic industry. To stop the exclusion of natural beauty and to start normalizing it. To take care of your body, bones and all, and be thankful for being healthy. “It’s been hard, and it’ll continue to be hard,” she says. “But I’ve made a lot of progress.”