Inspiring with Instagram: One Swede’s Journey

Antonia Eriksson, 18, went from nearly fatal anorexia to international health guru in less than a year - and documented the journey on Instagram, making her our pick for Swede of the Week.

Inspiring with Instagram: One Swede's Journey
Antonia Eriksson documented her recovery from anorexia - on Instagram. Photo: Antonia Eriksson

The latest picture on 18-year-old Antonia Eriksson's Instagram account (@eatmoveimprove) is a plate full of rice, beans, and meat. The caption: "Carbs make you fat? HELL NO! Carbs make you strong!"

The first picture on her account, just 15 months ago, tells a different story.

"As feared they had me admitted to (the) hospital since the anorexia had gotten so crucial," the caption reads. The picture is of the hospital bed where Eriksson lay, weighing only 38 kilogrammes. Her body was shutting down and doctors feared she wouldn't have lived another day on her own.

More than 10,000 Swedes, mostly women, suffer from anorexia according to data from the Swedish Council on Health Technology Assessment, and as many as one in three Swedish women has an eating disorder of some kind.

Eriksson's own descent into anorexia began at the beginning of 2012 after she and a friend counted their calorie intake on a whim. What began just for fun quickly became an obsession, and in September she was admitted to the hospital – where she stayed for two months.

"I think I knew something was up from the very first day, but I didn’t really admit that I had a problem until I was already really sick," Eriksson told The Local. "My dad called the eating disorder clinic in town, and by the point I knew it was dangerous. I had stopped working out because my body couldn’t cope with it."

Eriksson knew something had to change. So she logged on to Instagram.

"My phone was overloaded with pictures of really skinny girls," Eriksson said. The majority of the accounts she followed were what are known as thinspo accounts ("thin inspiration"), so-called encouragement for people who want to lose weight – lots of weight.  

But Instagram wasn’t all negative. That day in the hospital Eriksson also discovered a community of support on the social image site, and decided to reach out.

"I made my first post that day in the hospital," Eriksson said. At first she posted anonymously under the account name @fightinganorexia, wanting support but not wanting to share her struggle with her peers. "I had seen what a huge network there was, and I wanted to be a part of that. Everyone talked to each other and supported each other. And I needed someone to reach out to. I needed someone who understood."

From there Eriksson's situation improved rapidly, and by February 2013 she had reached a healthy weight. She created a new account connected to her identity, wanting to be trustworthy and easy to connect to. Today her account is "fitspo", inspiring people to be fit – and not worry about their weight.

The contrast is astonishing. Every day Eriksson posts images of food – not celery sticks and salad, but "normal food", everything from fried potatoes to porridge to chocolatey desserts. Eriksson doesn't follow a diet, and encourages others not to either. And while she does upload fitness images as well, of herself sweaty and glistening in workout clothes after an hour at the gym, she never shares numbers – neither weight nor calories. 

At the time of writing Eriksson has 28,100 followers, many of whom have struggled or are currently struggling with eating disorders. 

"Today I get over 20 emails a day, and the same amount of messages (on social media)," Eriksson told The Local. "And my comment feed on Instagram is insane."

And she answers all of them, not wanting anyone to feel alone.

"I just want to inspire people. There are so many young girls who feel awful about their bodies today, and I want to show them that they don’t have to. It’s not about your weight, it’s about being happy. You only have one body and it’s not worth mistreating it." 

The battle is not over, as there are still thousands of people suffering from eating disorders  – and innumerable thinspo accounts on Instagram. The thinspo tag was censored on Instagram for a time, but was made searchable again in October last year. Eriksson thinks the social media site needs to take the next step. 

"A site like Instagram has a responsibility to look out for their followers and block dangerous hashtags if they can," Eriksson said. "These thing spread like wildfire. People are in danger and (Instagram) should change the game."

Eriksson's idea of using Instagram as a tool for improvement was not entirely original, but rather inspired by many existing accounts. But it's Eriksson's account which has taken the world by storm. Her story has been featured in media around the world. The Local asked why.

"I think it’s partly just because I’m very open with my story," Eriksson said. "I’ve written all my thoughts, and everything I feel. Not everyone talks about the dark and shameful side of their photos, and I do."

She also thinks timing has a lot to do with her sudden shot to fame.

"The story blew up because it gives people hope. We’re so used to all these negative stories about eating disorders and mental illness. And somewhere along the line comes this positive story, and that catches people," Eriksson reflected. "People need hope. And health is a big topic right now, people can relate and connect. My story just happened to come at the right time."

Solveig Rundquist

Follow Solveig on Twitter.

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#MySweden: ‘Älmhult is extremely diverse for being a relatively small city’

The Local's readers take over our Instagram account to introduce each other to towns and neighbourhoods across Sweden. Today, Sikandar Khan from Pakistan talks about life in Älmhult.

#MySweden: 'Älmhult is extremely diverse for being a relatively small city'
Sikandar Khan. Photo: Private
How old are you and what do you normally spend your days doing?
I just turned 28, and my each day is different from another, there is no such thing as a “typical day” for me. Even though my 8-to-5 work day is well scheduled and planned, I do not plan my free time and take each day as it comes.
Some days I like to go for walks and immerse myself in the secluded nature, other days I like to go some place new to hone my photography skills, or just have a cozy evening indoors in front of TV, binge watching Netflix. 
When and why did you move to your neighbourhood?
I moved to Älmhult in March this year after having lived in dynamic Stockholm for around four years. The reason I took this 180 degree turn was because I got an opportunity to work for Ikea, which was a dream come true for me. Although I had my concerns moving to a calm town of less than 20,000 people from the bustling capital of Scandinavia, and initially I missed the big city feels, with time I have started to like my new home. Now when I go to Stockholm or any bigger city, it feels very crowded to me. 
What do you love the most about your neighbourhood?
Älmhult is a very unique city, and with time it has grown on me. It is known because of Ikea, and most people living here are associated to Ikea one way or another. So wherever you go, you see someone you have either seen or interacted with at work, it makes you feel like a part of huge family and everyone is friendly. You get many smiles walking on the streets, which I missed in Stockholm. Apart from that Älmhult is extremely diverse for being a relatively small city, with people from around 40 nationalities living here so you get the international atmosphere that you'd expect in a bigger city. 
What annoys you the most about your neighbourhood?
We do have all the basic amenities here, but sometimes  when I need to go or buy something special, I have to go to Malmö, which is not that big of a deal as there is a direct train going every hour and takes like one and a half hours, but it could be still be annoying as you have to plan your day according to the train timings as they do not run all night long, which is mostly annoying during weekends. 
How should I spend a day in your town?
Even though Älmhult is small, it's not short of activities to do. Start with a hearty breakfast at Ikea store, followed by visiting Ikea Fynd. Every Ikea store has a small section dedicated to bargains called “Fynd” but in Älmhult there is a separate store of its own, just dedicated to Ikea fynd, the only one of its kind in the world. It is definitely worth a visit while you are here. 
There you can step into the history of Ikea by visiting the Ikea museum, spanning three floors. You can spend quite a chunk of your day here by reading Ikea's story, delve into the nostalgia and appreciate the glorious history. Which can then be followed by a meatball lunch at Ikea's museum restaurant. The meatballs are traditionally Swedish with a modern touch. You can also choose between veggie, chicken, meat and salmon. 
Later, if you still have time and energy left, you can go to the lake Möckeln, and enjoy the nature or fancy a swim perhaps? There is also a possibility to hire a canoe and go on a canoe tour. 
I'd totally recommend coming to Älmhult if you're a nature lover and a die-hard fan of Ikea.
What's a fun fact not everyone knows about your neighbourhood?
Did you know what the word Älm means Elm and hult means groove, so Älmhult means groove of Elms. (Elm is a type of a tree).


You can follow Sikandar Khan on Instagram here. Do you want to be The Local's next #MySweden Instagram takeover host? Click HERE to apply.