A woman who beat anorexia to become one of the world’s greatest beauty queens has blamed social media and the NHS for shocking figures revealing a growing crisis of eating disorders in the UK.
Alisha Cowie, 23, from County Durham, who is one of Britain’s most successful beauty queens, says she was “not surprised” by this week’s worrying statistics after her own experience.
It has emerged that the number of children and youth entering treatment for eating disorders has more than doubled in the last seven years.
Surprisingly, the report also revealed that eating disorder patients are being denied NHS treatment for “not being thin enough”.
During her own battle, Alisha restricted her diet until she weighed just six stone at the age of 13 after being bullied for being anorexic as a teenager.
Alisha (pictured during her teenage years battling anorexia) has said that she received very little support in overcoming her eating disorder.
Since then, she has become one of the UK’s most successful beauty queens and has been crowned Miss England and Miss International.
Even at the age of five, cruel kids teased her and called her ‘fat’ before they called her ‘too skinny’ when she lost weight in high school.
Alisha also had to go to class at set times to avoid her tormentors for her own safety after they started throwing rocks at her and pouring hot drinks on her.
And she said Instagram images glorifying anorexia led her to self-harm and contemplate suicide.
Alisha finally beat the bullies to be crowned Miss International UK a month ago, five years after winning Miss England in 2018.
But now she has revealed how during her darkest days she was forced to overcome her eating disorder ‘alone’ with little help or support from the NHS.
He also called on social media companies to do more to prevent young people from being exposed and influenced by harmful content online.
Alisha, who is also a professional photographer, said the entire system needed an “overhaul” because eating disorders are not taken seriously enough.
Alisha said: “I think there needs to be a review within the NHS to make sure eating disorders are taken more seriously and treated appropriately.”
THEN AND NOW: Alisha suffered from anorexia as a teenager (pictured left), but has now overcome the disease (pictured right)
According to Alisha (pictured here, 16), once she was diagnosed with the eating disorder, she was “left on her own to try to deal with it on her own.”
“From my experience, after I was diagnosed, I was left alone to try to deal with it on my own.
‘The only thing they offered me was advice, but only someone lectured me on how many calories I should eat.
‘But I already knew how many calories I should eat, it was just that I didn’t want to. The problem was psychological.
“So I think maybe people would benefit more from therapy or group therapy, because in my experience I had little support.
‘These numbers do not surprise me for that. I know the NHS is overworked and understaffed, but I don’t think eating disorders are taken seriously enough.
After being diagnosed, Alisha (pictured on her way to Miss International UK) says she received advice that was “just someone lecturing me on how many calories I should eat.”
“My GP just told me I had anorexia and sent me off with no treatment plan. I had to try to solve this problem myself.
“From what I’ve heard from other people, it seems the job is left to charities and the NHS does little itself to find solutions for patients.
“The idea of using BMI to measure how healthy you are is also outdated and could be the reason why people are told they are not skinny enough.
“I think there is also a level of ignorance. You don’t have to be underweight to have an eating disorder. It can affect anyone and is broad spectrum.
When she was very young, Alisha (pictured when she was crowned Miss International UK 2023) was called “fat” by other kids at school, now she says “kids can be mean.”
‘The problem can start very young. Children can be cruel. Kids throw the word ‘fat’ around the playground as an insult before social media can take over.
Social media companies like Instagram must also do more to restrict access to harmful content.
‘We all know that the internet is a huge void of ideas and content creation and it can certainly be a good thing.
‘But you can be just as easily exposed to the glamorizations of anorexia and self-harm, as I was. And when you’re young that can be very influential.
“I think any photos that have been edited need to state that fact so that young people don’t see all these filters etc as real life.
“Social media was just getting started when this happened to me 10 years ago, but it’s clear we’ve learned little from it.
Alisha (pictured after being crowned Miss England 2018) believes social media companies, schools and the healthcare system should do more to help combat disordered eating.
Now you want to see a multi-pronged approach, with agencies like schools, the health system, and social media platforms doing more.
‘People still see these images of the ‘perfect’ body type to aspire to. Social media companies with these huge amounts of money can do something, they just don’t.
“I think the key to anything is education. Therefore, it is important to make young people more aware of these dangers.
‘So between schools, the healthcare system and social media platforms doing more, that’s the only way I can see this issue finally being resolved.
I think it’s going to need a multi-agency approach. The numbers are definitely alarming, so it’s clearly an issue that needs to be addressed.”
Alisha will represent the United Kingdom in the Miss International final in Japan, which will take place in October.