I had food-related issues since primary school, when a healthy appetite as a young child turned into an unhealthy relationship with food and negative body image. As I struggled to connect with my peers at secondary school, I turned to food for comfort, which meant I was overweight and had dangerously low self-esteem. As I got older and more self-aware, I began trying to control my eating. I tried out many diets, which, as an adolescent shaping their identity, is a dangerous road. By the time I was 16 I was starving myself and became fearful of certain foods due to over-exposing myself to multiple fad diet. This manifested into a battle with anorexia. It was awful – eating disorders steal your joy, overwhelm every thought and breathe a constant train of lies into your mind. I was miserable. I became so accustomed to lying to concerned family about what I had eaten, that it became second nature to me to list off a daily amount of food that had not been consumed.

After a few years of battling, I was very low in weight and was backpacking in South-east Asia as a vulnerable 18-year-old with little accountability. My mum came to visit me in Thailand and for some reason I became so tired of not eating that a switch went off and I started binge eating. It felt like every meal I had ever skipped came back at me with a vengeance. I couldn’t stop myself from eating. It was like a hungry monster was living inside of me and couldn’t be satisfied. The feelings of shame and guilt were all-consuming and I ended up travelling home with my mum to try and get into a better state of mind.

The following years were a slow and steady battle with eating too much and then trying to compensate by dieting or not eating. I was probably through the worst of an eating disorder but my eating patterns were highly disordered and my thoughts about food and myself were completely messed up. At this point, no one would have known by looking at me, but I was still really struggling and felt completely hopeless.

Breakthrough and a sense of purpose

At the age of about 22 I became so tired of the yoyo dieting and the constant battle that I opened up to my sister. She prayed for me and shared Matthew 6 with me, about not worrying about what we eat or drink. I decided on that day to quit the dieting industry, for it had confused me and caught me up in a web of false truths and ideologies. I decided to start the liberating journey of eating whatever I wanted. However, I learned to listen to my body and began to understand that we have been given incredible bodies that are able to tell us when we are hungry and when we should stop eating.

I was extremely blessed to be able to quickly grasp hold of the truth and apply it to my life. I became free much quicker than many people who struggle. I became so passionate about being free, I felt like it was unfair that I had this true freedom and so many are battling. Last year I started working for an incredible charity called tastelife, who train people to run a nine-week community course that helps anyone with food-related issues, as well as their carers. We equip people to understand the feelings and emotions behind eating, and to know that there is so much hope – and that total freedom is possible! The course really does work and so many people have been changed by it. Here are just a couple of attendee’s comments: “tastelife has been the most valuable eating disorder support service I have attended. Being able to talk to people in similar situations was so helpful” and “I came here after a professional recommendation. I have gone from feeling desperate to feeling positive and optimistic about recovering from my eating disorder.”

Could you get involved?

Unfortunately, due to the mental health pandemic that has correlated with Covid-19, the cases of eating disorders have shot up in the past year. Recent research suggests that one in five women in the UK could be suffering with an eating disorder, while there are only 455 adult in-patient beds available to those with such difficulties in the UK. The NHS is sadly unable to cope with the amount of eating disorder cases.

As it is Mental Health Awareness Week, we are appealing for people to train with us at tastelife and join our wonderful team of leaders who are able to run the course within their church or community. Our next online training event is happening the 18–20 June on Zoom. If this is something you or your church is interested in doing please get in contact as we would love to share some more information. We want to see people break free from eating disorders in the UK, to spread the message of hope in a circumstance that can seem like total darkness.

Abbie Young is communications coordinator for tastelife