Weight of eating disorders lifted off her shoulders
WEARING a skimpy bikini while she flaunts her ripped body on stage, it's unlikely anyone would pick Megan Axelsen as a recovered anorexic.
With her toned figure, the Karalee fitness instructor is a shining example of what a healthy body should look like.
This wasn't always the case though. For almost half of her life, the 36-year-old has battled with the eating disorder.
Standing at 165cm tall, she once weighed as little as 37kg.
"I would often wear big, baggy clothes in an effort to conceal how thin I was," she said.
"I'm sure people were still able to see it though, my eyes became sunken and I grew fine hair on my face and body."
At one stage her anorexia became so bad Ms Axelsen said she had to pack a pillow each time she went to university.
"I needed it because I lost my entire bottom," she said. "There was no muscle or fat, it was just bone.
"As a result I couldn't comfortably sit on seats without having a cushy pillow underneath me."
Though she was severely underweight, Ms Axelsen said she never saw her physical deterioration as a problem.
"When you're in that state, you don't want to admit to anyone you have a problem because then you're admitting you need help," she said. "And you don't want help, you just want to be left alone.
"Once I dropped to that weight, I seemed to lose my emotions - I didn't cry, I didn't laugh, I was just numb."
Though Ms Axelsen wasn't bothered by her physical state at the time, her parents were.
"My mum took me to see a specialist," she said. "Sufferers of eating disorders were typically put on waiting lists but when they took one look at me I was seen to immediately.
"After that I started visiting psychiatrists and dietitians regularly and allowed myself to gain just enough weight to keep me from going under doctors' care."
"During that time I was also pursuing a university degree, which I wasn't enjoying, and didn't have many friends," she said.
"I was also bullied a lot in school because I was such a shy and introverted person. So it was a combination of things, the break-up was just a catalyst.
"I started to do lots of cardio exercise, like walking for hours, and also lost my appetite without even realising it. I found being hungry was a good distraction from my other problems."
In less than a year her weight dropped from 55kg to 37kg.
"I would only eat one meal a day - a small bowl of cereal and some dried apricots," she said. "After several weeks, my mindset changed and I started to feel guilty whenever I ate more than that."
Ms Axelsen continued to starve her body until she was 30 and joined a group of cyclists, who were training for triathlons.
"Some of the members took me under their wing and convinced me to eat more so that I had more energy to take part," she said. "This eventually led me to start binge eating though - I went from one extreme to the other.
"I would polish off packets of Tim Tams, chips, tubs of ice cream - just eat and eat 'til I was almost sick.
"I justified it because I was still exercising a lot but I put on a lot of weight and became really unhappy with myself."
It wasn't until Ms Axelsen came across the sport of body sculpting that she was finally able to break the debilitating binge-starve cycle that had characterised her life for so long.
"I was about 71kg when I walked through the door of Ipswich-based physique conditioning studio Body Boutique and met with trainer Marian Leonard," she said.
"She inspired me to work towards competing in the INBA figure competition, where contestants are judged on their muscularity.
Ms Leonard - a former Ms Olympia champion - said she had needed to challenge Ms Axelsen's thinking about food and exercise.
"We had to change her focus from 'perfect' body to 'healthy' body and then her journey truly began to unfold," she said.
"It must have been incredibly daunting for Megan to look at her food plan and see six meals for each day; lots of veggies, protein, carbs and good fats.
"But we worked as a team creating trust and seeing success."
Once the competition day arrived, Ms Axelsen said she had never looked - or felt - better.
"Being a shy person, I was incredibly anxious about getting up on stage," she said. "But once I was out there, I loved every second of it.
"I had worked so hard to be able to get to that point so I gave it everything, the experience filled me with self-confidence."
Since then, Ms Axelsen has entered numerous physique competitions and recently placed first and second in her divisions at the ANB Asia Pacific International physique championships.
She now joins Ms Leonard as a certified personal trainer at Body Botique and is prepping for another INBA figure competition. "I am so thankful to Marion and the people at Body Botique for helping me recover from my disorder...it has been the most liberating thing for me," she said.
"My ambition now is to help others achieve their goals with healthy regular eating and exercise."