In my recent past, I made what felt like a perfectly rational decision not to eat for two weeks. Fast forward several months and I was on the verge of being sectioned under the Mental Health Act as I was in danger of heart failure as a result of anorexia and a chronic exercise addiction.
I’d had an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise from the age of 17 and decided that I was going to be thin for my final year at drama school. I went for a run every morning, danced in rehearsals all day and went to the gym in the evening. Exercise relieved me of my constant guilt towards food despite the fact that I was surviving on celery, black coffee and caffeine tablets.
I was taken to see a consultant psychotherapist at the Priory clinic who sent me for an electrocardiogram. It was the worst case she had seen in her 20 years of practice and she told me that I needed to be hospitalised immediately.
Terrified of gaining weight, I would exercise behind my wardrobe door, doing star jumps, sit-ups, press-ups – anything I could think of to burn calories before each meal. Eventually I was caught by the nurses, and after making one last attempt by jumping up and down in the shower, I had to admit defeat and start my long fight with anorexia and exercise.
I received every type of therapy from individual and group to drama therapy. Once at my target weight, I was allowed to exercise in the hospital gym under careful supervision.
It was a struggle. Part of me felt so happy to be moving again but there was still a voice in my head telling me to work harder, run faster. Learning to enjoy exercise in a safe way and not abuse it was a long, steep learning curve.