Mental Health Awareness Week: Essex woman opens up on living with anorexia

  • Hear Rebecca's story in the first in a three-part series to mark Mental Health Awareness Week

Rebecca Quinlan always wanted to be a professional athlete and hoped she would run for Great Britain.

As a teenager, she was a competitive track and field athlete and earned a place at Loughborough University, where ran against the best athletes in the country.

Rebecca went to university at the age of 19 but left when she was admitted to an eating disorder unit - meaning she had to give up her dream of becoming an athlete.

"I was an athlete, and I wanted to pursue that as a career," said Rebecca, now 33. "And I was convinced that if I lost weight, I would run faster."

Rebecca found that the independence university gave her meant she was in charge of her eating and exercising, feeling like she could restrict herself and no one would notice.

"I was really physically struggling and mentally struggling. I couldn't walk properly. I was struggling to talk, struggling to stay awake," said Rebecca, from Chelmsford.

"My flatmates rang my parents. They came to collect me from university and took me home.

"They took me straight to the doctors who ran some blood tests and said I had to go to intensive care because my organs were failing."

Rebecca's goal was to run for England, but it was taken away when she fell ill.

Rebecca spent three years in and out of eating disorder inpatient units, where she was sectioned and fed through a tube.

"I started to become a revolving door patient and I thought 'I can't carry on like this'.

"I agreed to start taking antidepressants... I wanted to be able to have a life and manage anorexia alongside it."

Rebecca's story is part of a series being run this week by ITV News Anglia, focused on people who are living with mental health conditions, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week.

According to the eating disorder charity Beat, approximately 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder. 

There are many different types of eating disorders, but the most wildly known are anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and bulimia nervosa. Around 75% of those affected by an eating disorder are female.

Rebecca has been in recovery since the age of 22, and has been able to begin to do the things she loves again, including running.

"I did grow stronger without me really realising it, but I still have anorexia.

"I raced again for the first time in 13 years and that just felt amazing. It was so incredible, it was like I was getting a stronger body to accompany my newly stronger mind," she said.

Rebecca now delivers talks and workshops on eating disorders, hoping to improve people's understanding of the condition.

She has attended Parliament to contribute to discussions around mental health and has met with MPs to discuss eating disorder services.

"I really hope that in sharing my experiences, it does help others improve their understanding or help other people who are suffering or who have suffered," she said.

"I hope they get inspiration and hope from me that recovery is always possible."

Who to contact if you or someone you know needs help:

  • Beat operates helplines that are open 365 days a year from 9am–midnight during the week, and 4pm–midnight on weekends and bank holidays. Talk one-to-one with a Beat professional on their secure instant messaging service or email

  • Samaritans operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year, by calling 116 123. If you prefer to write, email Samaritans at

  • Anorexia & Bulimia Care offers support and advice for anyone suffering from disordered eating on its website or on their helpline at 03000 111213

  • Seed Eating Disorder Support Service offer help and advice on their website and through their advice line on 01482 718130

  • First Steps ED offers help and advice on their website

  • Overeaters Anonymous runs meetings across the UK and online for those who struggle with binge eating