Special report: a personal insight into eating disorders recovery

Trinity Handley has her own lived experience of the challenges of eating disorders.

To mark National Eating Disorders Awareness week we spoke to St Albans personal trainer Trinity Handley who has her own lived experience of the challenges of the illness. - Credit: Trinity Handley

According to Beat, the UK’s leading eating disorders charity, around 1.25 million people are affected by the condition in the UK.

On average it takes 27 weeks for eating disorder treatment to start after the first visit to a GP, and just 96p is spent on eating disorder research per person as opposed to £228 on cancer.

To mark National Eating Disorders Awareness week, the Herts Ad caught up with a St Albans woman who has a personal experience of the challenges of the illness.

Trinity Handley explained: "My motivation for raising awareness stems from my own personal experience of over 13 years of suffering from eating disorders."

Her eating disorder experience started with binging when she was aged 12: "I’d buy enormous quantities of sugary foods on my way home from school and eat it in secret, hiding packaging under my bed until I could deposit it in public bins. I vividly remember when my mum found out. She’d been cleaning my room and found two bags worth of wrappers which she confronted me with. I felt exposed, guilty, ashamed, but I don’t think she realised it could be an eating disorder.

At 15 Trinity was diagnosed with atypical anorexia and then aged 23, bulimia.

Research shows that early intervention is the most critical factor in determining whether full recovery is possible. However, it takes - on average - 27 weeks for treatment to start following the first GP visit, as confirmed by Beat.

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Trinity describes her NHS treatment as varied in terms of success. She was first referred to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) in Radlett in 2012 and was offered treatment: "I didn’t take it up as my parents were in denial about the problem. A GP told me a number of times that I was attention-seeking and once he told me that if I didn’t want to faint, I’d take glucose tablets."

Despite her behaviour being driven by a psychiatric illness that was completely out of control she said she was persuaded by the adults around her that she was a nuisance who "just needed to get over it".

When she went to Bristol University she had a more positive experience with a local GP: "I wasn’t able to make much progress because the waiting lists were so long that I had usually gone home for the summer before I was offered an appointment. Eventually in 2019 after another period of going downhill physically and mentally, I saw an absolutely brilliant GP at the Maltings Surgery in St Albans who took the situation in hand."

After receiving treatment from the Community Eating Disorders team in Welwyn, Trinity was offered 40 therapy sessions which she found really helpful.

"Eating disorders are shrouded with misconceptions and stigma and this directly impacts the experiences of sufferers, many of whom will assume (or are actually told by their GP) that they’re not sick enough to get help, or simply fail to recognise their eating disorder symptoms at all."

Her work now revolves around empowering people to find a love of movement and exercise that has nothing to do with weight or body shape or size. 

During lockdown she has been working with clients over Zoom as well as delivering talks on topics including eating disorders, body image and feminism and recently worked with students and staff at the University of Hertfordshire.

She explained: "Recovery isn’t a linear thing and because it became a way of coping throughout my entire adolescent and adult life, I am fairly sure that it will be a long, perhaps even life-long, process.

"However, my love of sport and exercise has remained strong throughout the entire journey and getting better in order to train properly myself and, more recently, to work with others too, is my biggest motivation to keep moving forwards. My advice to anyone who thinks they might have a problem is to seek help from their GP as soon as possible. If the GP doesn’t seem to understand, see a different one until you feel like you’re being taken seriously."