‘I was dying in front of them’
NO DAIRY, no gluten, no meat and no sugar. In fact, Ashlee Thomas would allow herself so little food, her parents were forced to do the unthinkable. Force feed their daughter, with a tube, all because she refused to eat.
In a bid to get fit, Ms Thomas was inspired to exercise and clean up her diet with green juices and short, seven-minute workouts.
But before long, her interest became an addiction that led her to stop eating altogether, a condition known as orthorexia nervosa.
"(There were) comments of what you should eat and what you shouldn't eat," she told journalist Alison Langdon.
"I saw this beautiful body, what I saw as perfect, and I wanted to be like that. So I just gospelly followed it.
"When I became quite thin I got more compliments than ever, I got more likes, more followers.
"People were applauding my behaviour, applauding my look and so it just fed my disease thinking that what I was doing was right."
Ms Thomas, now 17, said she reached a point where her parents were forced to put a tube down her throat so that she could eat.
"They had to shove a funnel down my throat and feed me liquids because I just wasn't eating anything," she said.
"My dad would get to the point where he would open my jaw and shove food down my throat just because I was refusing to eat anything. I was dying in front of them."
American doctor Steven Bratman coined the term "orthorexia nervosa" in 1997, after he developed an obsession with eating healthy food. The term uses the Greek word "orthos," which means "straight," "right," or "correct," and is a modification of the disorder anorexia nervosa. The US National Eating Disorders Association calls it a "fixation on righteous eating".
Dr Bratman developed a short questionnaire, the Bratman Test, to help diagnose the condition. Some questions include: "Do you spend more than three hours a day thinking about your diet? Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure of eating it? Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet has increased? Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, distancing you from family and friends?"
Answering 'yes' to four or five questions means it is "time to relax more about food". Answering yes to all of the questions "means a full-blown obsession with eating healthy food".
During the 60 Minutes segment, Ms Thomas' parents, Kendall and Andrew, explained how they were forced to take matters into their own hands when their daughter dropped to 40kg, and stopped eating.
"(It was) outbursts that you just see in the movies," Mr Thomas said. "You've got your loved one doing that in front of you. It's pretty upsetting."
The distraught parents said they were sharing their story to warn other parents about the dangers of Instagram, saying they didn't think this would have happened to their daughter if social media didn't exist. It is understood Ms Thomas no longer uses social media.
Psychiatrist Dr Mark Berelowitz from the Royal Free Hospital in London said that social media meant the condition of orthorexia nervosa had become more prevalent, and that 90 per cent of his patients will follow these "wellness warriors" before coming to him for help.
"I can't find anyone who sells detox drinks who can explain to me what toxins we're supposed to be getting rid of from our bodies, and how these detox drinks actually work," Dr Berelowitz said during the program.
"It's caught on but there's not much good science behind it. And the science of how to keep yourself well is really pretty rock solid.
"People don't need to rely on clean eating in order to be physically and psychologically well."
In 2015, news.com.au spoke with Melanie Colwell who said her diet didn't stray from vegetables, quinoa, brown rice and berries. Anything else was off limits.
"I really thought I could engineer my health. All I had to do was do enough research and I would find the perfect human diet," she said.
"But the more research I did, the more contradictions I found. So instead of picking a direction, I just cut out everything that was in question."
At 14, Thomas Grainger developed symptoms of an eating disorder, which began after he was bullied as an overweight child. One year later, he was diagnosed with anorexia and admitted to Westmead Hospital.
He recovered, but at 19 he relapsed into a daily "exhausting ritual" of controlled, clean eating which lasted for two years.
"I would have to measure my food, make sure it was fresh and clean and comparable with what the latest health trends were saying was 'healthy'," he said.
"I would have to eat the same foods on the current 'safe list' - which always appeared to be shrinking. I was constantly on edge, always anxious about not being able to exercise control over what I ate. A simple lunch appointment with friends became a huge cause for concern and I began avoiding people and events if I didn't feel comfortable. I struggled to get to sleep at night and felt trapped.
"(One time) I was sitting in a restaurant in Hong Kong and suddenly burst into tears as the waiter placed a bowl of noodles in front of me. I just couldn't allow myself to eat them. I knew it was stupid, but I just had so much resistance to letting go of my control."
Mr Grainger has since written the book You Are Not Your Eating Disorder, where he comments on Australia's obsession with body image.
"There is a righteous movement taking place in Australia about the proper way to eat 'clean' and healthy and no one agrees about what this is: paleo, vegan, raw, macrobiotic?" he said.
"There never will be an answer, because who we are is not what we eat."
For help or more details about eating disorders, please call The Butterfly Foundation's National Helpline on 1800 334 673.