As part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I would like to share my personal experience and hopefully help someone out there.

“You are going to get fat.” ”Don’t let yourself go as I did.” “Remember: a moment on the lips is a lifetime on the hips”. These are all expressions I have been hearing at home since I was a kid.

Simce school I have always been chubbier than my friends, but it was not something that bothered me till the summer before arriving at Imperial. Wanting to be fit for university, I started running for about an hour a day and limiting my portions significantly, which resulted in eight kilos lost and compliments from literally everyone.

In my first year, and due mainly to my lack of cooking skills and laziness, all that weight returned to me and so did the ‘friendly reminders’ regarding how wide my hips were getting and how ‘curvy’ I was. I was continuously getting comments from random people about my body and in all honsesty, feeling objectified is quite disgusting.

After the Christmas break of my second year and as a new year’s resolution, I made the decision to get fit for once. I started doing weight training and tracking every single bite of food that went into my mouth. Was that the solution to my problem? Nope, that is when my eating disorder properly started. I remember checking online how many calories I was supposed to eat a day and believed that just by following that approach I would get my dream body, I would feel great and happiness would immediately appear in my life. I was definitely wrong.

At the beginning, I managed to follow a crazy diet while excessively exercising but on the third week I remember being completely starved. I felt quite disappointed at myself and thought I was just lacking willpower. That weekend I decided to have the famous ‘cheat meal’ which turned into a ‘cheat weekend’ and then into binge eating.

This cycle of starvation Monday to Friday followed by binging on the weekends, continued happening all the way through my third year – not to forget the hours in the gym with a calorie-burning mentality.

My hair was falling out, I stopped having my period and that – together with Imperial’s workload – made third year a complete nightmare. Another factor that contributed to the development of my eating disorder was the external pressure I felt to look a certain way due to all the exercise I was doing.

Once third year finished, I decided to start dieting strictly for the summer season while simultaneously attending counselling. I remember going to my counselling sessions and always wondering how I got to that point – I used to be so happy and full of energy all the time.

We used to talk about my degree, my friendships, my plans for the future and my family, but exercise and food were topics that I barely mentioned even though they were something that was taking a lot of space in my life. On the fourth session and after a lot of thought I decided to be open about my relationship with food and the stress that this was causing.

After saying that out loud for the first time, I felt like something finally clicked in me, I was ready to stop making food and exercise controlling mechanisms in my life. I started searching online for articles about binge eating disorder, spent hours on Youtube watching videos but I was still quite confused. Some said binging was just a way to cope with emotions, others that it was part of our survival instinct.

By that time I was six weeks binge-free, till that Sunday: another binging episode. That upcoming week I was meeting the counsellor again and that Thursday was honestly one of the most meaningful days of my life. I realised in the session that I forgot what being satisfied and most importantly having a balanced life meant. I remember him mentioning the expression ‘intuitive eating’ and I felt completely scared about it. For me at the time there was only black and white, moderation did not exist. Suddenly, I realised that my problem was that I was not eating enough.

The following morning when I woke up, for the first time in ages, I listened to my body. I ate till satisfaction and I ate what I wanted to have without thinking about the ‘consequences’. I remember having for breakfast some scrambled eggs on toast and an apple dipped in Nutella.

Something as simple as having Nutella without binging the rest of the day or feeling guilty and embarrassed about it was a huge step for me, and ever since the 15th of August I have been binge-free. I found that being open about my unhealthy relationship with food was the most important thing I did and even writing this has been liberating and helpful to remind myself how far I have come.

I can finally say that eating is not a stressful activity anymore, that I have found my passion for lifting again and that I truly love myself and my body – including every stretch mark and every bit of fat and cellulite.

*If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, seek support from beat Helpline 0808 801 0677 Youthline 0808 801 0711