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Trigger warning: This article contains details of eating disorders and sexual assault
Nicola Chan, from Liverpool, started suffering from the eating disorder non-purging bulimia in her late teens. She would gorge on food and do excessive workouts in the gym to burn it off.
As an adult, Nicola became afraid of keeping food in the fridge and would hit the gym until her body ached.
Nicola (@body_confidence22) now has two daughters aged 23 and 10 and when she became a bodybuilder she experienced a condition known as hypothalamic amenorrhea, which commonly occurs in women of childbearing age with eating disorders.
It stems from an abnormality of the release of the hormone GnRH which is usually attributed to poor diet, chronic stress, over exercising and suggests the individual is not getting enough calories.
Women with this condition do not menstruate and Nicola has shared how she became temporarily infertile, struggled to get pregnant and did not menstruate for ‘years.’
"I would spend 95 percent of my brain [power] hating myself, focused on my food and exercising," Nicola said.
"My eldest now tells me about her childhood of having no food in the fridge and I feel bad, but back then I couldn’t cope.
"I feared if the fridge was full of nice food, I’d eat it all.
"If I didn’t like my arms I would pinch the fat, feel terrible and then say: 'Right that’s it, let's go to the gym’."
Nicola realised something needed to change when she was struggling to get pregnant.
The 39-year-old said: “My lowest point was probably when I was infertile – I felt empty, like I wasn’t a real woman because I couldn’t conceive a child.
"I was having IVF treatments and even the doctors didn’t pick up on the fact that I needed to do less exercise and eat more food.
"Instead GPs and clinicians blindly followed the advice at the time to eat less and move more.
"When I eventually got pregnant it was because I stopped exercising so much."
In 2015, Nicola took up bodybuilding, hoping to find confidence in her body, but it soon saw her go on a 12-week eating binge.
She said: "It's recommended that after a period of 12 weeks, you should return to your 'normal' body and eating – but I enjoyed being that thin.
"My brain was running on such little fuel, that I was already not seeing how I looked and the lines of perfection moved, to the point where I wanted more."
Nicola believes her control over her eating and exercising was triggered when she was sexually assaulted and raped as a teenager. She also says diet culture in the ‘90s and the ‘beauty ideal’ back then also played a part.
"Like most women in the ‘90s, the beauty ideal was to be thin with adverts for shakes, to slim down or workout videos where women were always very skinny,” she explains.
"All of this sent me subliminal messages that there was only one way to be a woman, and that women needed to be attractive to be accepted and successful."
To find a way out of her obsession, Nicola trained as a qualified NLP body positivity coach in 2018 and she now runs her own company Wai-Shee.
She said: "Since starting this personal development journey, I realised that much of my shame and dislike for myself was due to past trauma.
"Now, I help people to see what is underneath their eating disorder or obsession with body image."
If you have been affected by the content of this article, or need further support, contact the eating disorder BEAT here.