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A Story of Transformation: From Addiction and Eating Disorders to Health and Wellness Coach

As a new voice to Pro Corner, it seems only fitting to tell my story of transformation. Five years ago, my reality was a life rife with addiction, a life-long eating disorder, and cripplingly low self-esteem.

Today, my life is the polar opposite. I have become a coach and prominent voice on health and wellness in the online recovery community.

This is My Story

My life didn’t start out as intended. At just three years old, my mom, recently separated from my father, packed up and left the US. We landed in the UK as a single parent family, broken.

My memories as a child were mostly unhappy. That wasn’t for my mother’s lack of trying to provide a stable home. Yet, I recall feeling terribly disconnected and lost. I hated school and struggled to form friendships. I was desperate for connection, but I couldn’t fathom how.

I was only seven years old when I discovered food as a means of comfort. I recall not going to school, citing a phantom headache and stomachache. Once alone, I would sneak into the kitchen and cook up anything I could find; eggs with butter, or mushrooms with bread and butter – it didn’t have to be fancy. Eating provided me with a sense of escape. For that moment, I wasn’t aware of my low mood, feeling sad and depressed. I chased that feeling of escapism for the rest of my life.

At ten, I recall sitting cross-legged in assembly and comparing the size of my thighs to that of my peers. Mine were invariably larger, as I was a tall for my age group. Low self-worth, of somehow being less than, stirred in me, and they became increasingly dominant feelings as I grew into a woman.

In high school, I discovered boys. With the lack of self-worth and overwhelming desire to compare myself against other slimmer and prettier girls, I began restricting food. Initially, it was just breakfast. This progressed to saving my bus money for cigarettes – I used them not only to appear cool, but also as an appetite suppressant. I also walked to school instead of taking the bus. I started skipping lunch, trying to manage with only one meal per day. I felt in control, I looked slim, and I became more appealing to the boys. Yet the feelings of low self-esteem and lack of confidence only grew.

In my early teens, I discovered drugs and began hanging around with guys twice my age. My using quickly progressed to amphetamines, and by the time I was 15, I was using it every week. I dropped a lot of weight and felt happier with my body, but still felt fat. At the time, I was being groomed by a guy twice my age, a drug-dealer, yet I didn’t know it. I thought he just liked me. I didn’t realize he wanted a lot more than friendship. When I wasn’t high, depression ravaged my comedowns.

Into Adulthood

At 22, I began working in recruitment for the IT industry – a fast-paced and high octane environment. I discovered cocaine and it quickly and powerfully seized control over me. It provided the confidence I had been seeking; I felt like I could do anything. The combination of alcohol and cocaine resulted in compromised morals, promiscuity, increasingly precarious situations, and an insatiable thirst for more. I lived to use cocaine. At that time, I ate when I needed to, and I lost the excess weight I had been carrying, again.

I became increasingly fragile, vulnerable and volatile. I gained the nickname “Liv the Liability.”-Olivia PennelleAt 28, as my alcohol consumption progressed to daily alcoholic drinking, I had a breakdown and suffered with clinical depression. I had never felt so broken in my life. I did what I knew best, I went back to my trusted friend: food. I ate so much that I quickly gained 100 pounds and was covered in a tapestry of bright red stretch marks across my body. I hated myself and I felt imprisoned in depression. I contemplated dying at this point.

I became increasingly fragile, vulnerable and volatile. I gained the nickname “Liv the Liability.”

At 31, I fast approached my rock bottom: I removed all relationships that stood in the way of my binging with food and alcohol. I had discovered codeine, to deal with the crippling migraines I suffered during hangovers, which only increased my appetite. Binging and purging was at an all-time high; I was consuming around 4 bottles of wine a day and a couple packets of codeine a week, and my food bills were crazy.  I lost all sense of who I was; I felt trapped in a prison of obsession, to use. There was never enough. My depression was so acute that I wanted to die and suicidal ideation became prevalent in my thoughts.

Standing at a Crossroad

I reached a crossroad – a low I didn’t think possible. I couldn’t continue to live like this. I surrendered, and I chose life. I stepped foot into my first meeting and I haven’t looked back.

I dealt with the most dangerous beasts first, the ones that were killing me the most quickly: drugs and alcohol.

However, my relationship with food continued to be troublesome into sobriety. While not acute as it had been, it was disordered. I stopped purging, but continued binging. I ate a high carbohydrate diet, full of processed foods, and I felt physically terrible.

As my self-esteem grew with continued sobriety, I felt at odds with my increasing values to eat in a way that caused damage.  I faced the reality of my 150-pound weight gain: I was 32 years old and I had never had a normal, functional relationship with food. While I’d made attempts at weight-loss clubs, nothing stuck, because I wasn’t seeking to deal with the root cause.

I surrendered and got help.

I found a health coach who helped me learn about eating well and living well. She taught me about how to live a fulfilling life without using food as a substance, like drugs. I gained confidence, exponentially, as I finally began to live in a way that was healthful. I realigned my physical health, using food as fuel, and enjoying it in a healthy way.

As my self-esteem soared, I began to share my physical recovery journey with the world in my blog, Liv’s Recovery Kitchen. This included how I lost 50 pounds and became more active in my everyday life. I undertook a health coaching qualification to help others in recovery, which I am really passionate about.

Today I share my passion full-time, having become a voice in the online recovery community about the journey toward health and wellness. I interview others about their physical recovery and I share my findings. I also live to creatively express myself with food in a healthy way, providing delicious recipes and food inspiration for everyone, of any budget and any goal. I am most passionate about healthy food being appealing and tasty. Being well and eating well does not have to be dull and boring.


Images Courtesy of iStock

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