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To highlight Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Activ8 Health & Fitness member and Beat ambassador Alessandra approached us to discuss her battle with anorexia and how she is using her experiences to help others.

Alessandra has been an ambassador for eating disorder charity Beat since 2019 and one of her main duties is to raise awareness of how common eating disorders are, how to recognise the signs and how with determination they can be overcome. She even holds talks on anorexia and can sometimes be heard advocating on local radio stations too! Alessandra told us “eating disorders are a lot more common than you think and there are many factors that can cause one. Sometimes it’s due to a chemical or hormone imbalance in the brain and sometimes it’s a learned behaviour through coping mechanisms. Eating disorders can effect any age, race, gender or weight.”

Alessandra has suffered with anorexia since she was 17 years old. She severely restricted her food intake and was both secretly and obsessively exercising as part of this mental illness. Alessandra explained to us “I wasn’t diagnosed with anorexia until I was 25 in large part due to the lack of awareness, knowledge and understanding from my GP’s hindering me greatly. I’m now 29 and having gone through specific treatment for anorexia, I now know how to manage my illness better and work towards recovery. Recovery is possible but it is never a straight line, and if you don’t put in the work it can unravel quickly.”

Taking part in excessive exercise is a sign of an eating disorder, however as we all know that exercise can also benefit both our physical and mental health when participated safely. Before joining Activ8 Health & Fitness, Alessandra checked with her psychologist at the eating disorder clinic where she was receiving treatment at to ensure it was safe for her to do so. Many who suffer with an eating disorder become obsessed with and develop unhealthy relationships with exercise, especially when overhearing others discussing their weight loss efforts. Your health is and should always be a priority, so ensuring that you are participating in exercise for your health rather than to detriment yourself is something that we should all be constantly considering, not just those who suffer with eating disorders.

“Group exercise is a healthier way for me to maintain recovery and a healthy relationship with both my body and exercise. If you’ve ever been in a class with me you will see how competitive I can be! I love how being stronger makes me feel and as opposed to using exercise as a punishment, it is now an accomplishment for me and something I absolutely love to do. Focusing on a workout also helps me escape the heavier things on my mind.”

The most important thing that you can do for yourself or a loved one with an eating disorder is get help. It takes courage to firstly admit to ourselves that we need help and secondly to ask for it and like overcoming most health obstacles in life, recovery isn’t as easy as we would hope and as Alessandra said “recovery is never a straight line, relapses and steps back can and most likely will happen if your effort into recovery isn’t maintained. I know when I’m not doing or eating enough for my recovery.” However so long as you are receiving the support you need and believe in yourself, any eating disorder can be beaten.

When asked what the best way for someone with an eating disorder to find and get help, Alessandra told us “depending on the age of the person suffering, the best route is to go to your GP. Services are better for those under 18 and if you suspect someone younger than 18 has an eating disorder I can’t stress how important it is for them to seek help. The sooner and younger the eating disorder is caught, the more likely they are to recover.” There are also numerous charities that can help, including Beat.

We want to thank Alessandra for having the courage to discuss such a personal subject with us and for highlighting the importance of discussing eating disorders to help others who are suffering. We look forward to seeing her in a fitness class soon!

Approximately 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder. Eating disorders include bulimia, binge eating disorder, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED), and anorexia, which tragically has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, though all eating disorders can be deadly.

If you or someone you know may be suffering with an eating disorder, you can find information and support from Beat here. Their telephone and online support lines are available 365 days a year.

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