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'Bulimia was a compulsion I just had no control over'.

Byline: By Lydia Whitfield South Wales Echo

Through her teens and twenties, 35-year-old Dawn Lee exercised compulsively to try to stop the binge-eating, associated with her bulimia. Now, the recovered mother-of-three is actually enjoying exercise through Nordic walking - a kind of power walking with sticks. She is even undertaking The Four Inns Challenge and Nordic walking 45 miles in one day to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.

In the past, dental nurse Dawn has fluctuated from a size eight to 18 and back again and was told her metabolism was wrecked after her eating disorder.

But through training for the challenge, her metabolism is back on track and she's lost weight healthily for the first time ever.

'I do feel quite proud of what I'm doing and my whole family are behind me and have been so supportive with my training,' says Dawn, mum to Rebecca, 14, Shannon, 11, and seven-year-old Thomas.

'Part of compensating for over-eating was exercising, but it was obsessively and not in a pleasurable way like this is. I've learnt exercise isn't a punishment anymore.

'My bulimia started as a teenager right into my twenties, when it got quite bad. In my teens, it was more about comfort eating, just because of low self-esteem in general. I reacted to stressful situations by bingeing on lots of fattening food and quite quickly learnt to counteract the guilt that came with that by sticking to no more than 600 calories a day for a few days afterwards or by vomiting.

'When you don't like yourself, you go through everything, from 'I wish I was slimmer' to 'I wish I was prettier'. There's always something.

'It wasn't until my twenties it really became a problem and not until much later people knew about my bulimia. It was a very well-kept secret, which was quite easy for me, because I wasn't living at home by then. But even when I was at home, I was hiding food wrappers and wouldn't really think about what I was eating. I'd eat anything and everything.

'I wasn't weighing myself but went from a size 8 to a size 18 and back again. My weight never stabilised.'

In 2004, Dawn, a dental nurse in Barry's Broad Street Clinic, finally realised she needed help and contacted Anorexia and Bulimia Care (ABC).

She says: 'It's no way to live when you have children and I realised I needed treatment.

'Bulimia didn't serve a purpose in my life anymore. I was much happier and didn't need it but it was a compulsion I had no control over.

'In the end, my weight was just going up, no matter what I did. My doctor told me how I'd damaged my metabolism and was losing muscle, as well as fat, and it's muscle that keeps your metabolism going. I wasn't at my smallest when my GP referred me to the St David's Hospital clinic, where I had weekly appointments and doctor Toni Hoeskins there was especially good with me.'

Dawn, who is married to John and lives in Barry, was treated from September 2004 to May 2005.

She says: 'After that, my bad behaviour around food never came back. When I was getting treatment, I spoke to my eldest daughter, just to instil in her and my other children that they are valuable. I'm never going to be able to eat a cake again and not think about it, but I feel in control.'

Dawn's recovery process has been strengthened by the support she receives from friends at Barefoot Studio in Cowbridge, where she took up Nordic walking classes and volunteers to help out with administration once a week.

She says: 'I always say I only came into Barefoot for a drinks bottle! There's an amazing sense of family here. Karen, who runs the studio with Paula, wrote me a programme that builds up muscle and the focus is on exercising rather than dieting.

'I eat normally now - not always without guilt - but my body shape has totally changed and I'm so much happier and I don't weigh myself.'

Dawn is doing the Four Inns Walk in the Peak District on March 31 with Nordic walking teacher Karen Ingram, Paula Wooding, also from Barefoot, and 47-year-old artist Sue McDonagh, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was 24 and had a hip replacement in 2004.

Dawn has been in training since September, when Karen and Paula mentioned the challenge, though training has recently picked up pace.

'Without hesitation, I agreed to join them,' says Dawn. 'My aunt Jane Ringham died of ovarian cancer nine years ago, when she was 38, and I was really close to her. We're hoping to raise pounds 45,000 to fund another Macmillan nurse in the Vale because the work they do is wonderful.

'We've been doing a team walk every other Sunday and have covered different terrain like the mountains in Brecon, the Taff Trail or beaches in Merthyr Mawr. And then we do individual training in between.

'After years of going to the gym and, by the end, hating it, it's nice to be outdoors with Nordic walking. Whatever fitness level you're at, you see results really quickly.

'Some of the hills round Cowbridge killed me off to start with. It's an upper and lower body workout that burns up to 40 per cent more calories than normal walking. You use 90 per cent of the skeletal muscles when full Nordic walking techniques are used.

'People think it just looks silly, but it tones the legs, arms and abdomen - though I'm still waiting for my abs to respond!

'The most challenging part of Four Inns, for me, is the navigation part. I was in Debenhams last Saturday and couldn't find my way out again!

'The four of us really couldn't spend so much time together if we didn't get on so well.

'As it's called the Four Inns Walk, I'm sincerely hoping there's a pub at the end of it.': Bulimia: The facts:Bulimia is an eating disorder marked by cycles of binge eating of excessive quantities of food, followed by purging when sufferers make themselves sick or take laxatives or diuretics. In some cases a person with bulimia may use fasting or excessive exercise to counteract their binge eating. Bulimia was only officially recognised in 1979, but is surprisingly common. Some people with bulimia binge and purge occasionally, while others binge and purge several times a day.

Sufferers have a very low self-esteem and place a lot of importance on their weight and appearance. They generally feel convinced they are overweight - although in fact most sufferers are at or near normal weight. Over 85 per cent of reported cases of bulimia occur in girls in their late teens and early twenties. But roughly 10 per cent are men.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 19, 2006
Words:1139
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