A former bulimic has revealed how bodybuilding transformed her from a depressed recluse into a confident bikini model.
Grace Marriott, 21, from Aurora, Colorado, struggled with the eating disorder for two years after bullies called her 'fat', binge-eating junk food and purging after every meal.
Grace's weight reached 242lbs (109kg) as she recovered from the disorder, but she has now dropped 75lbs (34kg) after taking up weight lifting and swapping donuts and cookies for a protein-rich diet.
Grace developed bulimia as a teenager, eventually taking steps to recovery after being admitted to hospital in 2013, in what she calls her 'light bulb moment'.
But the long-term toll the eating disorder had taken on her body meant she quickly gained over 80lbs (36kg).
Grace says reaching 242lbs (109kg) in January 2014 left her feeling 'fat', 'ugly' and 'worthless'.
Grace vowed to get fit, and in 2015, after recovering from bulimia, the full-time nanny started training with a coach in preparation for her first fitness show.
In August this year, the 21-year-old took to the stage with confidence at the Warrior Classic Figure contest in Colorado.
"I became conscious of my weight after the first time I got called fat when I was nine years old," says Grace.
"I wasn't accepted, so I resorted to something I thought would get me accepted and lose weight which was bulimia, and those were the worst years of my life.
"I got help and became comfortable eating but wasn't aware of the damage I did to my body, so the weight packed on.
"I couldn't fit into anything. I'd have to stretch out my school polo shirts every morning so they would be loose and not be tight on my body.
"I stopped wearing shorts and tank tops, I would only wear baggy clothes.
"I stopped going to college because I couldn't handle just walking to class because I was so self-conscious.
"I made it to 242lbs and that is what made me flip the switch in my mind.
"Finally, I'm comfortable and happy with who I am.
"I wanted to get on stage and show off all my hard work and how far I have come from the shy, depressed girl I used to be"
Growing up, Grace struggled with her weight and found she was often a target for cruel comments from her peers.
The bullying caused low self-esteem, which eventually spiralled into depression and a full-blown eating disorder by the time she was 16.
She said: "I loved sport and was on a softball team, and the girls were really mean.
"I was made an outcast and would feel so down about myself.
"I felt out of place and not good enough, and so since I already was told I was fat, I went back to that and thought that's why I didn't fit in and I started purging.
"I only saw myself as fat, ugly, and a worthless. With this I fell into a deep depression."
Despite support from her mother, it was an overnight stay at The Medical Center of Aurora in November 2013 that proved to be a turning point in Grace's battle with bulimia.
She said: "The light bulb moment was when I went to a mental health hospital.
"I was completely alone in the process.
"I had to strip and get looked at by these nurses to see if I was hiding anything to harm myself.
"I didn't feel like a person."
After being discharged, Grace started to eat healthy meals and joined a gym which helped her lose 75lbs (34kg).
She met with a coach, who helped her train for her first bikini contest in August by working out up to 3 times a day.
She said: "I never thought I would be hooked on bodybuilding.
"Growing up I always just wanted to be skinny with no muscle.
"I hated the thought of even picking up a weight to get toned.
"When I met with my coach Jason Allen Robinson for the first time he saw such potential in me that I didn't see for myself.
"He told me I would compete so I just went along with it. I am so happy I did.
"I have a place where I belong and where I take pride in my accomplishments."
She added: "Being on stage is such an adrenaline rush."
"I acted like it was a runway. My coach, mum and dad and my friends were all there, so I was like I'm going to have fun, they know my personality so there's no need to be shy.
"I was in such a beautiful suit, I had my hair and makeup done feeling so pretty, so I owned it."
Although Grace has changed outwardly, she claims it is her confidence that has transformed the most and encourages other through her Instagram account.
I feel strong, confident and proud... I love who I am and I'm excited to find out who I am becoming.
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She said: "My whole life changed. I feel so amazing.
"I feel strong, confident and proud.
"I can walk into a room or any new situation with my head held high.
"I always want to go try new things, I no longer let my insecurities rule my life.
"I take mirror pics on end. I have met so many new friends and have gone out on dates.
"I've gotten noticed a lot more by guys, and get compliments I've never gotten before.
"I love who I am and excited to find out who I am becoming."
Where to get help:
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• The Word
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• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• CASPER Suicide Prevention
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