After 12 years of eating disorders - How fitness and nutrition helped Sinead Forde find a healthy balance
Sinead Forde felt controlled by her eating habits for most of her life. Here she explains how she went from one extreme to the other before finding a lifestyle that worked for her.
The Kildare native states that she has always been self conscious about her body, which has had disastrous effects both physically and mentally.
"Even as a young child weight was always on my mind," Sinead says.
When she was 15 years old, she set about losing weight as she thought it would make her "happier and more popular".
"I gradually cut out foods and would constantly lie saying I had eaten already. The weight dropped off so quickly and I started to get a buzz from the numbers going down.
"Over the summer holidays I started exercising and eating less and less. When I went back to school in September people were shocked. I had basically become half the person I was. My parents were so worried and brought me to the GP who diagnosed me with anorexia.
Sinead willingly attended a weekly support group, but with the strive for thinness still on her mind, nothing changed. Her weight continued to plummet.
Eventually she collapsed and was forced to spend three months as an inpatient being fed food to build up her strength.
"I played the system and ate my way out of there. Nothing changed in my mindset. I left the hospital with the intention of loosing all the weight again. Which I did," Sinead admitted.
As she turned 18 and sat the Leaving Certificate, all she could think about was food and using study as her excuse to not eat. Before long, she reached her lowest weight of five stone and eventually woke up one morning in A&E with a drip in her arm.
"I was terrified there was calories in the drip. That is how distorted my thinking was," she confesses.
Frail and drained, Sinead was admitted to a private hospital where she started an intensive inpatient programme, but despite spending three years in and out of the facility, she never really got her head around recovering.
Sinead was told she was a chronic anorexic, and would never have a normal relationship with food.
Determined to go on with her life, she enrolled in Dublin City University to study nursing.
"For most of college I was extremely controlling of my food. Weight gain terrified me. My parents stuck by me through it all and even came up and sat with me while I ate meals. They never gave up on me and that is something I can never thank them for enough," she said.
When the opportunity arose to go to America with friends on a j1 visa for three months, Sinead believes that this was a turning point in her life.
"I was away from past demons and learnt how to live by myself. I enjoyed that summer so much and finally felt free. I came back a different person. I spent about a year at a healthier weight. I thought this was finally my recovery point."
But when college recommenced and Sinead started a stressful nursing internship, her eating spiralled out of control - but in a way that was foreign to her.
"I started eating more and more because I felt It would help me feel better. It never did. I gained a lot of weight and felt even worse about myself. "I tried everything to stop myself but what I found the most frustrating was that to the outside world I looked recovered because I wasn’t skeletal any more but to be truthful the torment of binge eating was probably worse than any stage of my anorexia.
"I tried every fad diet, pill and slimming aid possible but of course nothing worked because I would still stuff myself with food. This continued for about two years. I started exercising and found a new love of resistance training. I still had a bad relationship with food so the weight never shifted and I got even more frustrated.
After twelve years of living with eating disorders, Sinead felt she had reached rock bottom.
On New Year's Day, she made a resolution just like most of us do.
"I took a progress picture. I decided I wanted to change my life once and for all," she says.
The Dublin-based paediatric nurse joined Westwood gym in Clontarf, Dublin and sought the help of personal trainer Stephen Kenny Gains.
Stephen set her a programme based around heavy weight lifting and it wasn't long before she was hooked.
"The endorphins I got after a session put me in such a good frame of mind that everything started falling into place. The weight started coming off and I was becoming happier by the day," she says.
"Stephen is the best trainer I have ever worked with. He goes above and beyond for his clients and never fails to motivate me. He gets results with his clients without short cuts or quick fixes," she praises.
"It took me a year to where I am today but honestly I am glad it took me that long because I know my progress is sustainable. My strength has hit a new level with his help, setting personal bests including a deadlift of 110kgs," she says.
Now stronger physically and mentally, she has become a dedicated fitness fanatic who says all she needs to put her in a good mood is a gym session.
"Westwood gym has literally become my second home over the past year. There is a brilliant atmosphere thanks to a great group of trainers and members."
The missing piece of the puzzle was still nutrition. Sinead admits she still struggled with binging and constantly worrying about her food intake.
"I was never sure if I was eating the right foods and tended to avoid certain foods because I was terrified they would bring on a binge. Peanut butter being the main food."
Sinead contacted naturopath Amanda Moroney of 'Recalibrated Bodies'. Amanda and her partner Daniel have helped countless regain control of their health and fitness with tailored meal plans, online advice and support.
"She was so supportive through my fears of eating higher carbs and has helped me so much in creating a balanced way of eating. I now eat a wide variety of foods without feeling the need to over or under eat," Sinead says.
"Since increasing carbs, I have never felt better. My energy levels are improving all the time. For the first time in a long time I can say I have a healthy relationship with food."
Now 27-years-old, Sinead is leading a healthy and balanced life that she never imagined possible.
"I never want to go back to my two former lives. I have treated my body so badly for so long that I make sure I do what keeps me healthy in body and mind.
"I train up to 6 times a week but wouldn’t have it any other way. It sounds mad but I have made some brilliant friends through social media. There is great support and positivity among the 'Irish Fit Fam'. I use my Instagram as a diary of my fitness and nutrition and find it such a positive outlet.
"When I posted my transformation picture I was overwhelmed by how many people commented and supported me."
Sinead wants to offer one piece of advice to those who may be suffering any type of eating disorder: never give up.
"It took me nearly 12 years to figure out how to regain my life but it was worth it. You have to want to recover for yourself and no one else.
"You are the driving force in your recovery. Everything happens for a reason in life and I do believe I went through some of the toughest times of my life in order to become a stronger and more determined person. If I can help even one person by sharing my story I feel it is worth while."
Sinead is now training to take part in a fitness competition later on in the year, under the guidance of Stephen.
"I am excited for the next few months. I have the right mindset to do something like this now and am looking forward to the whole process. There will be a lot of hard work involved but that never stopped me before."
Follow Sinead's progress on Instagram here.
For help, guidance and support about body related issues and eating disorders, visit Bodywhys - The Eating Disorder Association of Ireland.