Hattie Boydle On Recovering From Anorexia, Cherishing Her Body And Learning To Love Herself Again

23/02/2016 5:36 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Video by Tom Compagnoni

The last conversation Hattie Boydle had with her mother before being hospitalised for anorexia treatment was on the stone bench out the front of their family home.

They both cried as Hattie finally accepted she needed help.

The next day, Hattie would wake in the emergency ward after collapsing as a result of her first meal -- something her body was not used to.

She recalls looking at a photo of her then 16-year-old self thinking it was her grandfather. Her hair was falling out and she had hair on her body.

Like most eating disorders, Hattie’s anorexia was never about how she looked. It began as a means of control at a time in her life when she felt she had none.

“When I was in Year 10 a good friend of mine died suddenly in a freak accident. From that point I decided that if life can be taken away from you so easily I needed to excel in everything I do -- from my school work to my diet and fitness,” Hattie said.

According to the Butterfly Foundation, there were more than 913,000 Australians with eating disorders in 2012. Anorexia Nervosa is defined as a potentially life threatening mental illness.

Discipline was something Hattie understood from a young age. At the age of 4, her parents started her in gymnastics which ignited her love of movement and competition.

“Naturally I was really good at it and it kind of fueled my fire to be quite competitive,” Hattie said.

She would go to gymnastics before and after school and it became a place of comfort for her, where she could do what she enjoyed most with some of her best friends.

But this world was starkly different from her school life.

“I was badly bullied in primary school. It was a really hard time for me. I wasn’t well liked and remember spending lunch times alone,” Hattie said.

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Hattie fell in love with movement and agility at the age of 4 through gymnastics.

All of that would change when Hattie started high school though. She made new friends and finally, school became a place of happiness rather than fear and her bullies were a distant memory.

That was until she experienced the loss of her friend.

The impossibly high expectations she set for herself left her with little room to try and enjoy her life.

She remembers failing an English assignment she had worked so hard on.

“I felt worthless and like nothing I could do was right,” Hattie said.

This coupled with the built up emotions from primary school is what Hattie believes drove her into a deep depression leaving her only to focus on punishing herself through food.

“I isolated myself. I just thought that I wasn’t good enough -- I became my own bully in a way -- and treated myself like those girls treated me all those years ago,” Boydle said.

She vividly remembers becoming anxious on the school bus because traffic was cutting into her gym time. These feelings of anxiety were constant. Each minute that she would lose not being able to exercise meant she would cut back on food.

It got to the point where she couldn’t go to school anymore.

“I wasn’t able to walk up a few stairs to my bedroom and I remember trying to jump up and grab something from the clothesline -- but I was too weak,” Hattie said.

“I was so frail but when you’re going through that you don’t see yourself clearly -- it’s not even about how you look anymore -- you just hate yourself.”

She had ruined all of her friendships and it was starting to ruin her family, too.

Hattie spent three months in an in-patient hospital before going to outpatient care.

She was desperate to get her freedom back. She was surrounded by girls who were suffering and the worst part, Hattie recalls, was the girls who so clearly did not want to get better.

“In a way this was a good thing because I realised that there was absolutely nothing happening in hospital. There was no life in there -- and while it was a struggle to get out on my own, I knew that this couldn’t be my life,” Hattie said.

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Hattie began to see food as fuel and not something she should be fearful of.

The recovery was slow. But eventually, Hattie began a personal training course. She wanted to educate herself on what kind of training was healthy in the hope of being the change she so desperately needed.

The personal training lead her to discover body sculpting, a form of strength training.

“When I started to look at food as fuel rather than punishment or fear it also helped me to look at my body as what is it capable of achieving? And then I moved away from doing punishing cardio into weight training and becoming stronger,” Hattie said.

Her mindset switched from seeing certain foods as clean or dirty or bad, to seeing food as helping her reach her strength goals.

“For me, that was one of the key things for getting over the remainder of the eating disorder -- which was the fear of food,” Hattie said.

Now, almost 10 years later, Hattie’s focus is on being kind to herself and her body while training for the 2016 World Beauty Fitness and Fashion Titles (WBFF) in which she placed fourth last year.

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Her business, the Sports Model Project focuses on mental wellbeing as well as the physical side.

Her message of self love is something she practices daily, not only for herself but with her clients through her business, the Sports Model Project -- where she teaches other women strength training.

She admits the question of whether this is just another obsession is something that comes up.

“It’s so far from an obsession because I’m so relaxed,” Hattie said.

“If you want to be good at something, you’ve got to be obsessive in a way but it never controls my life or feelings. It doesn’t take up all of my day and I don’t ban foods from my diet,” Hattie said.

For Hattie, the biggest thing she tells her clients is how you feel about yourself.

“I challenge myself and my girls to do a daily affirmation about what they like about themselves,” Hattie said.

“We’re not perfect, we’re not meant to be perfect and no one likes you because you’re perfect. People like you because you’re flawed and because you are different. It wasn’t until I started to believe in that, that great things started to happen,” Hattie said.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300224636. For specific information or support relating to eating disorders call Butterfly Foundation on 1800 ED HOPE or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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