It's now a year since I completed my marathon fundraising challenge for Beat, and two and a half years since I "recovered" from my eating disorder.
There is more and more guidance appearing about how to spot warning signs for eating disorders, and awareness of the seriousness of these mental illnesses is growing, such as the prominence in coverage by the BBC recently. I actually spoke to Jeremy Vine live on BBC Radio 2 about my experience.
But what is it like to be a grown man recovering from an eating disorder?
The first thing is, I don't think there is a switch or clear distinction between "recovering" and "recovered" - it's not that black and white like some more traditional illnesses. Instead there is this grey area where you kind of slowly tip-toe your way towards the latter. And now I'm two and a half years down the road.
I'm now fit and strong (although injured every five minutes but let's leave that for another day). But in some ways, the physical recovery is relatively straightforward - certainly for me anyway.
Back in December 2014, I decided enough was enough having just heard the news from my dentist that I had lost 75% of my front teeth due to the damage caused by the stomach acid each time I made myself sick.
Progress was certainly slow - I only ate fruit and veg for the first three months and was filled with immense guilt, but when you have starved your body for two years, it very quickly responds to receiving the fuel and nourishment it deserves. Over time my gaunt facial features softened, my nobbly knees and dagger-like elbows became a lot friendlier, and my ribs and hip bones no longer stood to attention.
But the mental challenge on the other hand is a whole different kettle of fish, and for this reason I would still class myself as recovering. First, you have to break the habit. The cycle of starvation, binging and vomiting is exhausting, destructive and potentially deadly.
Just like a smoker who goes for that 11am fag every morning whatever the weather, my eating disorder was full of routines; the period after every meal where I would slyly sneak off to the toilet, or to my bedroom to binge on all the junk food I had stashed earlier in the day, this was what I would call "the danger-zone" - occupying myself during this crucial hour after each meal was essential.
I would make plans with friends or family - watching a film, cinema, heading for a cup of tea, just anything that involved somebody else and filling all this extra time I suddenly had on my hands immediately after a meal. A bit like taking away a smokers cigarettes.
We humans are creatures of habit, but now you've broken the routine. Breaking this cycle is such an important step for any addiction. To clarify, I don't believe eating disorders are addictions - but some of the habits and behaviours like the lying and routines have similarities.
I no longer have the spontaneous urges to binge eat or purge myself after meals - that went away a long time ago. I haven't weighed myself at all during this time, so I have no idea what I weigh, and I love it - my happiness is no longer determined by numbers, but by how I feel. But the after-effects still linger. My old self-destructive routines have been replaced by new routines - joy!
The quirks of recovery
Firstly would be my training. Like a lot of people who have had an eating disorder, particularly endurance athletes, I still find it really, really difficult to take a rest day. Voluntarily not exercising does not come easy to me. I am embarrassingly competitive. If we played tiddly winks, I would want to destroy you. It's cringeworthy. But my biggest and toughest rival is, and always has been, myself.
I have always trained hard, whatever sport it happened to be at the time - golf when growing up, or running, and now triathlon (oh yeah by the way I probably should have mentioned that I've entered an Ironman...). I love that buzz after a hard run, or that feeling you get after completing a swim or bike ride that you really couldn't be bothered to do, but you got yourself out of the door and did it anyway. It is this drive that has allowed me to compete at a decent level and most sports I've played, and I currently train for 10-15 hours per week.
But over the past year this has been to my detriment. I have suffered injury after injury, the majority of which have been self-enforced due to overtraining or attempting to comeback from the previous injury WAY too quickly. The money I have spent on physio, massage, scans, and entry fees for races I have subsequently had to withdraw from would fund a small army.
The next routine would be my diet. There are some foods which are just an absolutel no-go. Anything I previously used to binge on, like biscuits, chocolate, pizza, cake - these foods are just out of the question. I guess it's my way of taking myself out of the firing line, a bit like the smoker again. If he or she goes out into the smoking area of a bar, there is the temptation to have a drag of your friend's fag. But if you don't go outside, the opportunity to slip won't present itself. In the same way, I know eating these foods for me reminds me of my past destructive behaviours and triggers, so I just remove the temptation. Is this a cop-out? Maybe yes, but you do what you have to do to get by and keep yourself out of harm's way.
Here's another one - I've eaten the same meal for lunch pretty much every day for two years - one whole 500g tub of full-fat greek yoghurt with berries and nuts. I used to have granola, but then I found out how much sugar it contains and I now understand why I used to crash at around 3pm! This meal has been crucial to my recovery - at first it gave me essential fat and protein to try to help me put on mass so I could return to my natural weight, and now it helps my recovery from training and keeps me full until dinner time. I genuinely still love it until this day, but it does look a bit weird carrying bowls and pots of yoghurt around on work trips, or uni before that.
Oh but I'm only allowed to eat it after 1pm! Yep, that's another routine of mine. Lunch has to be eaten after 1pm, not a second before.
And here's another one - I never eat anything before I train. This means I only train in the mornings, so I usually wake up at 5:45-6am (luckily Coralie is an early bird too, otherwise I'd definitely be single!). I genuinely believe that training in a fasted state is beneficial to fitness, especially in endurance events, but there is also the part of me that likes the thought that I start the day in credit - by that I mean I've earned whatever I eat that day rather than feeling like I'm just burning my breakfast.
It's silly, because you absolutely do not have to "earn" food, but for me it is this mindset which gets me through. However this means that there have been instances where I've run full marathons in training at 4:30am on a Thursday morning before work, just so I can do it before breakfast. And on weekends when I go for a long bike ride, or swim, or to parkrun, it usually means having breakfast at lunchtime - yep you guessed it, yoghurt at 1pm!
And one more for you - not so much a routine, but part of "recovery" that nobody sees. My front six teeth are all fake. The amazing people at Guy's Hospital have cut my old stubs out, and glued my new ones in. I've only got temporary ones in for now, which have a habit of falling out at the most awkward moments. If you ever see me bending down in my bag with my hand in my mouth, that's because I'm probably gluing my front teeth back in! I should be receiving my final, permanent teeth in August, 30 months after my first appointment.
Recovery sounds terrible
Now you may have read all this and thought "he is an absolute nut-job" :-) And if you have suffered with an eating disorder, you are probably thinking "great, I'm going to be doing weird shit forever"
That's definitely not the point I'm trying to make!
I guess my take home messages are: for non-sufferers, we may now look "normal" or "fine" or "like our old self" but as I mentioned, the physical recovery is often faster, so please give us some time to let our minds catch-up, and forgive us for our weird routines and quirks. If we don't want to go our for a work lunch or get a takeaway, it's nothing personal - we are just doing what we have to do to help ourselves.
And for sufferers, it is never to late to recover, but recovery is definitely an ongoing journey, rather than a tick box, so it's absolutely normal to have days where things are really hard, so don't beat yourself up. You've come too far and made too much progress to put yourself down.
I may eat yoghurt every day at 1pm, but at least I'm not weighing myself after every cup of tea. I'm no longer going food shopping knowing I'm going to throw up every mouthful of everything I buy. Or shivering on hot summer days. Or waking up in the middle of the night with hunger pains.
And I no longer hide and avoid my friends so I can sit in my room stuffing my face with Tesco value digestive biscuits that I know I will throw up in ten minutes time.
You know what? I am a bit awkward and weird. I'll never come out for a beer and a kebab with you, but I'm living life now, rather than watching it from the sidelines, and that will do for me.
PS - if anyone wants to come round for lunch, just let me know. How does 1pm sound? Oh, and do you like yoghurt...