I feel lucky that I am able to write this and still be in a position where I can participate in sport and exercise as regularly as I want. I listened to a podcast the other day that discussed motivations for movement and exercise and it really brought my attention back to my own personal motivations and how drastically they have changed.

Speaking from experience, I know the lines can become blurred between exercising for the purpose of enjoyment and exercising to meet the demands of an eating disorder. Compulsive exercise is a term I know all too well. And in the world of sport (running in particular), I always took the assumption that the more you train, and the less you eat, the better you become.

Surely, if I weighed less then I would be able run quicker?

How very wrong I was!

As someone who engaged in competitive sport from a young age, I was always exposed to the high-pressure environment where you could feel so close but so very far from being the best or being a ‘winner’. My subjective experience of winning and losing both in a sporting and non-sporting environment, and a potentially predisposed trait to developing perfectionism (something I am able to compromise with now and use to my advantage), combined with the usual confusion of ‘self-discovery’ during school and college, it’s hardly surprising that I struggled during my time at university.

Starting university was supposed to be something new and exciting and a chance to participate in sport and exercise for social and leisure purposes.

I planned to join new teams and engage in other sports besides running. After talking myself out of joining the athletics club, due to being too scared to put myself in a situation where I might not be good enough, I found myself finding every excuse under the sun to avoid social situations with others, and head out for a run instead. ‘Training’ I called it.

Not quite fitting in with my flat-mates, running became my only way out. Missing home, but knowing that home was equally as stressful sometimes, I started to feel guilty that I couldn’t be the person I felt I needed to be. I still don’t know if the compulsive exercise and purging was some form of self-punishment, for not belonging. But it became my friend, and my identity.

With time, I realised that this was not the kind of friend I needed in my life. The ED manipulated me, magnified my feelings of guilt and shamed me for what I looked like. I wasn’t able to speak to anyone about it, because I was scared of being called a fraud. How could I have an eating disorder, I wasn’t underweight yet.

My pursuit for perfection continued throughout my time at university, in all aspects of the experience. I missed out on many exciting opportunities due to over-exercising, over-studying and over-working myself.

Towards my final year, I became so distracted that it was taking me twice as long to finish module readings. I started to realise that the purging did me absolutely no favours at all. It never really made me feel any better, in fact quite the contrary, I felt so disappointed with myself every time I did it. Not to mention how distracted I was whilst trying to complete my dissertation.

I only really started to get better when I personally made the decision that enough was enough. Although my circumstances couldn’t change (I needed to complete my degree), my reactions to these circumstances were still within my control.

I opened up to a close friend and booked an appointment with a counsellor. I spoke to my careers advisor and personal tutor about my plans for the future, and I started to surround myself with people that gave me an uplifting, positive energy that I could apply to my struggles.

I finally fought back, and I am still fighting today. I have a duty of care to myself and I want to be here to make sure that other people don’t have to go through this alone.

On leaving university I was fortunate to secure employment with an East Midlands Eating Disorder charity and soon became involved in designing a unique service to support students in the academic environment. Four years later, I am still privileged to lead First Steps ED, Eating Disorders in Student Services #EDISS in a range of colleges and universities which is available to over 106,000 students studying in our East Midlands campuses.

Who Are First Steps ED

  • We are a multi-award winning mental health organisation in Derby working across the East Midlands, providing specialised support for individuals whose lives have been impacted by eating disorders
  • Our support extends across to friends and family, carers and sufferers, diagnosis or no-diagnosis and individuals from many different backgrounds

  • Our incredible staff, considered experts by experience through their own personal journeys with mental health struggles, have an extraordinarily positive impact on individuals accessing our services

  • Our team also consists of experienced nurses, counsellors and psychotherapists who specialise in working with eating disorders and other associated mental health difficulties

  • Our main focus is to provide a person-centred approach to supporting our communities, working with service users and their parents to ensure high quality support is offered for all those who enter our doors

  • Service users come to us from a range of different settings where our work is delivered in the home, at school, in colleges and universities

We are proud of…

  • Our flexible approach to supporting individuals through our provision of online Technology Enabled Care Services

  • Access to instant messaging per weekday via our very own online messaging platform called ‘ChatED’

  • Working closely with professional partners within the NHS CAMHS and Adults Mental Health and Eating Disorder teams

  • Providing training and psycho education to teachers, nurses, GPs, healthcare professionals, social workers and other charitable organisations working with vulnerable people

  • Working as partners with student wellbeing services in a number of schools, colleges and universities to provide a bundled package of support to students in the academic environment

Our Ethos

We hold a strong ethos that eating disorder severity does not rely solely on Body Mass Index (BMI) alone, and instead involves a variety of factors. We base our approach to support on:

  • Addressing the complexity of each individual situation with no requirement of an eating disorder diagnosis to access our services

  • Viewing every individual’s situation in a holistic and empathic regard, noticing that what may work for one person, may not benefit another in the same way

Volunteers

Our volunteers are an integral part of our services, coming back to us as part of their positive recovery to help sustain their self-care which is proven to prevent relapse, and give something back to the next generation of service users.