Beat is a UK’s first charity dedicated to being a champion and guide for those affected by an eating disorder, and aim to end the pain and suffering they cause. Beat run Eating Disorders Awareness Week every year and have a wealth of resources available for individuals, workplaces, schools and charities.
“Eating disorders can have a devastating impact on the lives of sufferers and the people around them. Beat’s vision is an end to the pain and suffering caused by these serious mental illnesses.” – Beat
Sophie Dawson, a level 3 qualified personal trainer at Anytime Fitness Grantham and competitive bodybuilder, shares her story with us to help raise awareness.
Please be aware this article discusses disordered eating behaviours, calorie counting, anorexia and bulimia.
Why do we join the gym and begin our fitness journey? There are many different reasons we begin our fitness journey, one of the most common reasons is to make changes to our appearance alongside improving our health and fitness or sports performance.
But this desire to change can create unhealthy obsessions. Maybe it’s an Instagram model who’s your ‘#bodygoals,’ maybe you want a booty like Kim K. Having inspirations and goals is important, but a consistent desire for something someone else has just because it’s deemed ‘attractive’ can lead to a distorted body image or self-esteem reliant perceptions of body weight, which can lead to very dangerous habits or trigger an eating disorder.
What is an eating disorder?
Eating disorders are serious conditions related to eating behaviours and patterns that have a negative effect on your mental and physical health. These behaviours impact every aspect of your life, emotions and ability to function. Eating disorders range from extremely restricted eating, extreme overeating, episodes of binge-eating followed by forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting & excessive exercise. Anyone of any gender or weight can develop an eating disorder.
I began my fitness journey 5 years ago after I lost one of my closest family members, I decided to take this negative in my life and turn it into a positive to make them proud of me. It was time to make a change to my body after never really paying much attention to my health and fitness and having a negative self-image, always wearing baggy clothes and hiding away.
I took up running multiple times a week. I hated it, but it was serving a purpose to what I wanted to achieve – weight loss. I had never really tried with my diet before, usually eating 2 sharing packs of Maltesers for dinner after a packet of biscuits for lunch so I decided to get that on track knowing that would make a big difference.
Not really knowing what I was doing I set up a food tracking app and began logging my food using the unreasonably low calorie goal the app gave me. After 3 months of this, I had lost a significant amount of weight. My hunger for more weight loss began to grow, I started HIIT training twice a day at home and cut my calories further, way lower than they should have been. Some more changes started to happen and my weight dropped dramatically. By this point, I was emaciated and in denial of the severity of my weight loss. I joined the gym on my pursuit to lose more weight, my calories down to almost nothing. I would constantly be hounded and work for looking ‘anorexic’ and I defended myself with ‘all I eat is healthy foods, veg, lean meats.’
My food tracking was an obsession and I even tracked 0 calorie chewing gum and drinks. All I could see in the mirror were areas where I could lose more weight. After 6 months of starving myself, my mental state deteriorated. I began to binge drink on weekends, which lead to binge eating and induced vomiting. This then carried on into the week even when I wasn’t drinking. My staved brain would go into a trance-like state where I would be searching for food and once I started, I couldn’t stop eating until I was so full that I was physically sick or the fear that food would make me gain weight I would have to get rid of it. This became my secret, unhealthy obsession.
I wouldn’t eat out, I wouldn’t go around to my friends to eat because I wouldn’t be able to track it on my app, I was living without any quality of life. Locking myself away daily to binge and purge.
I finally decided to delete my food tracking app and start eating intuitively. My passion for the gym had grown, I developed a love for weight training and my goals had changed to packing on some muscle so I could pursue a career in the fitness industry. However, my bulimic habits hadn’t been addressed and didn’t stop. I did put on some weight, mostly body fat and I hated it. My motives had changed, I didn’t want to starve myself to be thin anymore I wanted to punish my body because I hated it. To anyone, I was a normal healthy weight, but all I could see was imperfections in myself.
Another 6 months went by and I was clinically diagnosed as depressed. My training had stopped, my binge eating hadn’t and the only way out was to reach out for some help. After being diagnosed by my GP with bulimia and depression I was sent to the NHS’s ‘steps to change’ for sessions of counselling. In my counselling we diagnosed the original problem was from being bullied about my appearance at school. I began putting steps in place to prevent the binging. If I felt like I was about to have an episode, I would take myself away from the situation, go for a walk, read, distract myself in some way. Giving myself self-affirmations every-day and being positive towards myself, not obsessing over ‘idols’ and trying to accept me for me.
My biggest change came when I got myself a coach, who put me on the right track with my diet and training. I was still undereating, without tracking my diet, so I was put on a plan to get me on the right track towards my goals (of gaining muscle) supplemented with the correct intensity and training program is where I have seen the biggest improvements in my mental health. Having someone believe in me has made me believe in myself. When you believe in yourself, anything is possible.
At the end of last year, I competed in my first bodybuilding competition, placing 3rd as the only newbie competitor against 16 other girls. I went through probably the most intense 12-week diet you can go through, then to be judged on my physique and appearance. Competition prep is one of the most mentally testing processes you can go through and I can happily say I came out the other side with no eating-related issues or body dysmorphia. I am now currently in ‘off-season’ quite happily gaining weight and loving every step of the process. I have slowly gained almost 4 stone since stepping on the stage in November, my calories are higher than they have ever been at 3,600 and my training sessions are stronger than ever, getting ready to compete again in September.
I’m not saying everyone should take up bodybuilding, but finding your fitness passion and getting some professional to help you get on track with your diet and training can make an amazing difference.
Go smash your goals and learn to believe in yourself. Be your own inspiration, love yourself and take the focus off how you look and channel that energy into improving your physical and mental wellbeing.
It really is ok not to be ok
You don’t have to go to your GP for help, you can talk to a family member, good friend or co-worker. Reach out to anyone to get some help. It’s not easy or comfortable but neither is living with an ED.
Help can also be found at:
Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday: 9am to 6pm)
Rethink Mental Illness
Support and advice for people living with mental illness.
Phone: 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday: 9.30am to 4pm)
Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.
Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
Emotional support, information and guidance for people affected by mental illness, their families and carers.
SANEline: 0300 304 7000 (daily: 4.30pm to 10.30pm)
Textcare: comfort and care via text message, sent when the person needs it most: www.sane.org.uk/textcare
Phone: 0808 801 0677 (adults) or 0808 801 0711 (for under-18s)