Parent organisation of Community Links, Foundation and Bridging the Gap

Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2024

Eating Disorders Awareness Week – 2024

In Conversation with Tasha and Hannah.

*Trigger Warning*
Discussions of eating disorders, weight, body image, restricting and purging.

For Eating Disorders Awareness Week this year Tasha and Hannah, two colleagues from the Inspire North Group had a chat, to share their eating disorder stories and experiences, offering advice and support along the way.

Hey Hannah. I am Tasha. I currently work at Inspire North and have been living in Leeds for almost eleven years. I studied English Literature at university and enjoy long walks in nature, reading a variety of books and I have just gotten into yoga. Since working in communications, I have learnt the power of words and how sharing stories can help raise awareness and offer a glimmer of hope, even in the darkest of times. Being creative helps me to express myself and also to manage my eating disorder thoughts when they appear. I have been on my journey to getting well for about two years now.

Hi Tasha, nice to meet you. I’m Hannah, I was diagnosed with bulimia nervosa alongside having anorexic tendencies in 2015. I went unemployed for about four years due to the severity of my eating disorder and mental health. I now work as an eating disorder peer support worker for Link-ED and am proud to say that I use my struggles as a positive, to help support others experiencing similar challenges and provide guidance as someone that has recovered.

TASHA: What does ‘recovery’ or ‘recovered’ mean to you? If that is a term you feel comfortable with?

HANNAH: I feel that there can be a lot of pressure placed on what being ‘recovered’ means not only internally but widely spread also, but there isn’t just one definition. It may change from time to time and during your journey too which is completely normal. At the start of the recovery journey for me, it basically meant freedom. Not only with food – feeling guilt free, but with my own choices, to not be controlled by the eating disorder voice and living my life in fear. Your priorities will alter along the way and what is most important to you will become more prevalent. Recovery to me now at 5+ years in, is ultimately being happy and confident with the choices I make – not second guessing, finding peace spiritually and utilising it to be of help and not hindrance, especially to aid others dealing with eating disorders. What about you Tasha?

TASHA: So, initially I found the word recovery comforting and it made me feel that I was on this journey with myself to get well again. Now, as I have been in recovery for almost two years, I have started to see things differently. I saw that someone else described recovering from an eating disorder as a discovery… I really resonated with this, as discovery makes me feel like getting well or getting better or even just managing is ongoing. For me, discovery has no time limit or end date. Whereas, when you think about recovery, in some ways, there is an added pressure. Learning to manage and discovering new things about myself is the journey I am on and rather than focusing on the destination I am taking it step by step with detours and hurdles along the way.

HANNAH: That is an interesting way to look at it. What difficulties would you say you have faced with food and/or your body?

TASHA: This is a difficult question as it changes so much. For me, I guess my relationship with food and my body started to change after my parents got divorced and I was in high school, which comes with its own set of challenges. I began to restrict, reducing the quantity of what I was eating and then restricting certain foods, and at university I started to get stricter with myself in terms of counting what I was eating and constantly checking my body in the mirror, taking pictures of myself, and asking friends and family if I looked like I had put weight on.

I had started going to the gym and had a personal trainer before lockdown so when the gyms closed, I didn’t know what to do. I kept working out at home, got into running and my food habits began to change. I am someone who needs to feel in control, so during a time when no one had any idea what was happening and we were so limited, it now makes sense to me that I started to obsessively control my food intake and exercise during that time. My eating disorder just took over, to the point I forgot who I was and all I could think about was my body, food and exercise. Accepting I had an eating disorder was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but also one of the bravest and strongest things. I have been on my journey of discovery, if you like, for some time and I am slowly learning to love my body but there are still times when I almost feel like my body is not mine and I feel disconnected from it but I know this feeling is temporary. Food is still a battle for me. I want to love food again and be able to share experiences around food with my loved ones. But every day I manage to eat something, I am happy and celebrate that win without berating myself.

I know everyone experiences their eating disorder differently though, so this is just my story. I am sure yours is different to mine Hannah.

HANNAH: I personally find it difficult to place one reason on why I ended up with an eating disorder. There are often many complications and factors to it but there are things clearer to me now, as I am recovered, that I maybe didn’t recognise as disordered at that time.

I was in the modelling industry for years and unfortunately my early experience wasn’t a positive one. Being told I wasn’t quite the right size, to return once I’d lost weight, being measured in front of a room full of other girls, being told my hips were bigger, my skin wasn’t clear enough etc. It was all chipping away at me.

You’re probably thinking it sounds familiar to all the stories in the papers about the modelling world – which is true. But for a 16-year-old girl that was bullied from a young age, this experience reaffirmed the thoughts of being the outcast, the odd one out and it became my reality. I was hyperaware of how other people perceived me. I was dissociated most of the time, thinking of how I looked, spoke, acted etc. I isolated myself and eventually the need to control everything became an obsession and the only way I felt I could be in control was through food. I was utterly consumed and obsessed over needing to be good enough in every sense of the term. I began restricting and would go full days without eating but I was utterly drained, physically, and mentally. So then came the binge, purge cycles, it felt incessant, and I was hopeless. I could never win; I was paranoid that everyone around me knew I had an eating disorder. This is when I knew it was time to change, I knew I needed to reach out, I couldn’t do this alone as I’d tried and failed. Reaching out to my parents was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, speaking out made it real but I needed to be accountable. It may have been an uphill battle and there was definitely some very low points in my journey to recovery. It’s reminding yourself that it is all normal that’s important. It’s never going to be easy or straightforward, it’s working out what is the best way for you and sticking with that. I gained back my life, my identity and now I’m proud to be able to say I’m here and helping others that were stuck like I was.

TASHA: It can feel like a vicious cycle sometimes. I think recognising that you don’t have to face it alone and that support is out there can be so helpful. Would you agree?

HANNAH: Let others in. If you can build a support system around you, then do. Whether it’s a friend, a colleague or even a befriender. My parents and my partner were a massive factor in my recovery, they listened, were patient and I never felt judged. Yes, I felt vulnerable and it’s difficult to put yourself in that uncomfortable situation, but having them there, made me realise you don’t have to be perfect, to be worthy of love. They can help you see your reasons for wanting to get better on the days you struggle to find one. You are more than good enough just as you are and your weight, body or image does not directly affect that.

What has been the most helpful thing you have learnt throughout your experience Tasha?  TASHA: The most helpful thing I have learnt is without a doubt understanding that my eating disorder is not me and does not define my identity. Learning to separate myself from my eating disorder has helped me to regain my own sense of self again and I have a clear understanding of who Tasha is and who the eating disorder is. I have now learnt to be more aware of my thoughts and can identify when it is me or my eating disorder and so I can challenge those thoughts or continue championing myself depending on who is control in that moment.

Having an eating disorder can take over day to day life, can’t it? How did or do you manage day to day?

HANNAH: We often say one day at a time but starting small with one hour at a time can really help when it all feels a bit overwhelming. 24 hours in a day is a long time, celebrating the small wins helps. I would create an emergency list of little tasks/things each day (e.g. rearranging my wardrobe etc) I wanted to do for when I would feel any intrusive thoughts incoming. It helped as I didn’t try to battle the thought, I just picked a task and got on with that instead and eventually the voice quietened as I was distracted.

Being open and as honest as I could be with my support system really helped me to stay accountable and on track to recovery. They were my reason to keep going and pushing through the hard days. I journalled at the beginning as it helped me get everything out of my brain, it helped to rationalise thoughts that seemed like the end of the world to me. I also used it to look back on, to see the progress I had made even though a lot of the time what I wrote didn’t make any sense!

TASHA- Yes, I agree Hannah, I would be lost without my amazing support network. I have amazing friends and family who offer constant support, reassurance, a listening ear and genuinely are my cheerleaders. Talking openly about my eating disorder has been a freeing experience for me. I have lost the feeling of shame now, which I know takes time and is not easy to do. But for me, talking about eating disorders in day-to-day conversations, makes me feel less isolated, less alone and each time I talk about it, it is ME beating the eating disorder.

We both mentioned earlier how we feel we lost ourselves to our eating disorders at various points. How do you understand your eating disorder in terms of your own identity?

HANNAH: For a long time, my eating disorder was my identity, it changed my whole being, I lost friendships, I couldn’t work, I was depressed and couldn’t see a future beyond it. Anyone that has struggled with it knows how debilitating it is and it can rule all aspects of your life if you let it. I’m lucky enough to say that I see my eating disorder as a separate person now. I know that it once controlled me and how I lived my life but that is no longer part of who I am. I am more than an eating disorder. I love to bake for family and friends – I was calorie counting when I had my eating disorder and now, I have a healthy relationship with food. I have completed a triathlon; I’ll be completing my first marathon in April – I was so tired physically and mentally when I had my eating disorder but I am properly fuelled and my body has the strength to be able to do this. Recovery is worth it in more ways than I ever thought possible. 

TASHA: Wow that is amazing Hannah! I ran my first half-marathon last year and it feels like such an amazing achievement doesn’t it! For me, my eating disorder is part of me, but it isn’t me if that makes sense. Experiencing an eating disorder, is exactly that, it is an experience I am going through, it does not define me. I know, deep down I am so much more than my eating disorder and I am lucky that I can say I now know that my value and worth as a person, does not solely depend on my body or food intake.

What advice would you give to an individual who may be struggling with an eating disorder?

HANNAH: Be easy on yourself. I put heavy pressure on myself to be perfect even in recovery. I had to constantly remind myself that perfect isn’t possible, once I started to let go of the control the eating disorder started to loosen its grip.

It’s completely normal to have the up days and the down days, but don’t let the bad days make you think you have a bad life. It can feel so isolating and overwhelming just thinking of starting the journey to recovery but there are so many people out there that are feeling it. You are not alone.

Think about what your motivations are for doing this, what do you want in the future? It may feel like you are stuck but there is a way out for everyone it’s just about finding what works for you. Don’t give up, you’re amazing.

TASHA: You are so right Hannah. I think the best piece of advice I could give, is to reach out to a loved one, or ‘safe person’ as I often call them. Having someone you can turn to when you are struggling can be so helpful and at least for me, helped me to realise I don’t have to carry all of this on my own.

Always remember, this is not a race, this is not about anyone else except YOU. Take your time, do things that feel right for you, when they feel right for you and celebrate all the wins no matter how big or small. And if you can’t celebrate them, share it with someone you trust, and they can champion you on the days you may not be able to do it yourself.

Life is up and down and so is this journey, so be kind and show yourself some love, because we all deserve that. Okay I have waffled enough now.

Thanks so much Hannah, it has been great to learn more about you and your journey, you are an inspiration!

If you are worried about yourself or a loved one and need support:

BEAT Support Line: 0808 801 0677

Connect/Link-ED Instagram page:

Talk ED

Samaritans– 116 123

Mind Infoline: 0300 123 3393