Sophia Thiel had disappeared from the scene for two years, but now she is finally back. She is celebrating her comeback with her new book “Come Back Stronger”. In it, she tells openly and ruthlessly how it came about that she collapsed under public pressure, developed a serious eating disorder and suffered other private dramas.
Above all, however, the book is about her personal journey from this difficult time and how she learned to accept herself, to overcome her bulimia and to be happy again. We were able to meet the 26-year-old Instagram star in an online interview.
What changed during your time off and what did you learn about yourself during this time?
I realized that I had lost touch with myself all the time before the break. That I could no longer precisely define: What do I actually want? What makes me happy What do I need to be able to work long term? Even if it wasn’t that easy at times, it took this whole process to get to where I am today.
In your book you write openly and honestly about your eating disorder. At what point did you realize you had an eating disorder?
I had the first signs in 2015 after my first bodybuilding competitions. That was the first time I had secret binge eating. I was so drained. My body fat percentage was super low, which was due to my diets, which consisted only of protein and carbohydrates.
Then I suddenly felt the need to eat huge portions of nuts or drink pure oil. That was my body, which reported itself with alarm signals, but I always tried to suppress them until I could no longer withstand and stuffed everything into me uncontrollably. Since nuts and oil weren’t on my eating plan, I considered it a mistake, something forbidden. The more in shape I was, the higher the bill I had to pay afterwards. That wasn’t a yo-yo effect, but a very clear pattern that I fell into.
And what helped you out of there?
First and foremost, it was my psychotherapy that helped me clean things up and tackle my construction sites. And of course the relationship with my boyfriend, because he stayed with me and showed me that I am valuable and lovable as I am now. Without any conditions. Without being in top shape.
I always thought that I would only have deserved something if I performed well, my self-worth was very much defined by performance. I read books in parallel to therapy. To read about symptoms and patterns and find out that it is exactly the scheme that I conform to …. The more I dealt with this clinical picture, the more painful and sad it was for me, but at the same time very liberating. Then I started to write my book. That helped in particular to see the whole thing from a bird’s eye view, to reflect on things, to discover wrong decisions and to better understand my behavior. On top of that, I made contact with my family and friends again. So there were different things that did me good and that helped me out.
What is your advice to family and friends of people with an eating disorder? How can you help?
The shame of the eating disorder on the one hand and the helplessness of relatives and friends on the other hand are the fundamental problems. That is why open communication is essential, that you really talk about everything, that those affected know that you are there for him or her. But to really intervene or say what the person should do in such a situation or to evaluate the behavior negatively is rather counterproductive. The person can only do it on their own. But you can of course try carefully to suggest solutions. For example, I would like to address therapy more in the future because it can help everyone to get professional help.
How do you eat today
I am incredibly happy that Essen has taken a back seat to me. In the past, my whole everyday life and my thoughts revolved around diet, like a self-made prison of nutritional regimes. Today I don’t panic anymore when, for example, we go to a restaurant because I’ve learned that I can eat in a restaurant and it doesn’t hurt me. Or that I can just go on vacation without taking Mealprep for a week or my food scales with me.
That sounds awesome, but at some point I was at a point where I became totally addicted to these things. Now I track my thumbs every now and then, but it is no longer the case that I weigh salads or vegetables. If more falls into the bowl, I don’t care today because I’m just not so fixated on having to walk around with a six-pack 365 days a year. A form of competition cannot be held for a lifetime. It’s really only for that day X.
You say you used to restrict yourself and work against your body. How did you manage to listen to yourself and your body?
For me, ice bathing or cold therapy was the secret recipe. Cold showers also move me deeply into my body. At first I’m scared, then I hyperventilate a little and only then do I start to relax. My body releases a lot of endorphins, which makes me feel very much alive.
I’ve always needed very strong stimuli to relax. For example, it used to be strong massages. Because it was not possible for someone to massage me due to the pandemic and the associated restrictions, I discovered the cold for myself in winter. Just drive to a lake and sit in there. That means rest and time for me.
What does a typical day for Sophia Thiel look like today?
In everyday life, I usually get up with my boyfriend at 6:30, work out from 7 to 9, take a shower and have breakfast. What then follows is usually very varied: Sometimes it is pure laptop work with answering e-mails, research, etc. Or days like today with productions, TV shows, YouTube video shoots or photo sessions. So very different. Mostly until about 5/6 p.m. and then the day is over again. At the weekend I always take a little time for myself and do something with my family or friends – as far as possible.
So are you already trying to keep humane working hours?
Exactly. With breaks and without working through. I used to get up at 6 a.m., cook for 1 hour for 2 days, do 1 hour cardio, 2 hours strength training and then another 1 hour cardio. And then my working day only started at 12 p.m., 1 p.m. and that’s why I sometimes worked until 8 p.m., 9 p.m. and then fell dead into bed. And the next day it went the same, regardless of whether it was a holiday or a weekend. That was what completely burned me out.
Social media – curse or blessing?
Both (laughs). It depends on how you use social media, how you rate it for yourself. In my worst personal phase, with private strokes of fate, the eating disorder and my time off, it was kind of a curse because so many eyes were watching and judging me. That only made the whole thing worse than it already felt. But it’s also a blessing because I always enjoy it. I get to know so many different people, work on many different projects and I can develop creatively. What inspires me and what I advocate, I can give to others as a positive influence, including help. So it also has good sides, it just depends on what you do with it.
During your break you must have suddenly had a lot of time without Instagram, Youtube and Co. How did you use the time differently?
At first I didn’t even know what to do with all the time that I suddenly had without social media. Suddenly I was alone with myself and my destructive thoughts. I also write that in my book. First of all, everything got worse because I no longer had a job. I felt expelled from society as if I were no longer part of it. As useful as a used handkerchief.
Then I saw what I can do and asked myself: What do I enjoy? At first I fell back into my gym addiction and eating disorder. Only later did I do something with friends again and travel with my friend Rapha when it was still possible. Suddenly I had eyes again for what else there was in the world. It was a total contrast to my bodybuilding days, when I looked at life through a straw.
Did you look forward to your community before your comeback or did you have more respect?
The joy prevailed because I was happy about my development. Of course, I also had in the back of my mind: what if people are expecting old Sophia? When you think, that’s the well-trained Sophia with a six-pack? Then there’s a surprise! I also thought that because of this some would unfollow me. During my time off, my following dropped from 1.3 to 1.1 million. But within a week the followers were back and it was nice to see that my honesty and my “new old me” had received such approval.
Can you now hide it better if there is criticism? Is it not so close to you anymore?
I used to sometimes get help answering comments when, for example, Facebook and Youtube comments became very negative. But looking away from grievances is never a good way to solve them. Today, thank God, I can handle it better. Everything that concerns my optics or my body no longer really affects me. I’m older now, have found out my true values for myself far away from looks, finally I know who I am.
Now I’m more concerned about what comments about my character might do to my relatively young community. That’s why I want to be more against it in the future and reprimand people for nasty comments. So it could be quite bumpy on my social media channels. Now it can be that I get grumpy. Because I also write on Instagram with younger followers who tell me their story of suffering when it comes to eating disorders, and that hurts my soul. The criticism is passing me by today, but people don’t know what it can do to younger people.
What is currently on your mind?
The book project is super exciting. I’m curious to see how people react, especially my community and especially to the new topics. In the future I will focus on mental health, education, psychotherapy. I want to create awareness and stimulate self-reflection, also with regard to how you use social media.
Is there anything else you would like to say about your book?
I’m so happy about the release because I’ve been writing to it for over 1 year. So or me and a writer who sorted all my confused thoughts so that they make sense. I always talk a bit haywire, but in the end I wrote every single word and she really helped me a lot in bringing structure into it.
In the process of writing I had real flashbacks into the negative phases, but that it is now so compactly compressed in a book is kind of like I can now let go of everything that has passed. I think that’s really nice. And I’m excited to see what will happen in the future. There will definitely be projects that go with it. For example, I want to talk to other Youtubers about my book, and I’m already in contact with some of them.
Sophia Thiel is back! Your book offers really intimate glimpses of what is arguably her most difficult time. She wraps her personal story in beautiful language and comes back to help and inspire many people.