Horse-loving Anna Heathcote, 26, works as a communications officer and lives in Nottinghamshire, England. In November 2014, she was shocked by a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa, after losing a great deal of weight over the former 6 months. At the time, it did not occur to her that her childhood love of horse-riding would help her beat the deadly disease.
She had not deliberately planned to lose a lot of weight, only to eat more healthily. “However, somehow I became carried away using apps on my phone to track my food intake,” she says; “I was getting a thrill from using the apps every day, and from limiting my calories.“ Her parents and her boyfriend John expressed their concern, but Anna insisted she was following a sensible diet. She went to the doctor for a check-up because she had started worrying about her general health, and it was only when an anorexia diagnosis was confirmed, that she realised how sick she had become. She was shocked, and made a promise to herself to get well, while receiving treatment from the National Health Service, and support from the UK eating disorder charity Beat.
Anna had to reluctantly give up the marketing job she enjoyed so that she could focus on her health, and after several months off work, in the spring of 2015 she started looking for a less challenging role. Almost at once, she thought about working with horses, because she remembered how relaxed and calm she had felt when riding them as a child. At first she was not physically strong enough to ride a horse; there were days when she was so weak she needed her boyfriend to help her just get out of bed. But then she discovered a Riding for the Disabled Centre near where she lived, which seemed like an ideal opportunity, so she started volunteering for them.
Anna says that being outside in the fresh air gave her a sense of great well-being, and the combination of animals and nature made her feel happy, less isolated and more confident. However, she found working at the stables demanding physically and she knew that if she wanted to ride again, she had to eat healthily and build up her strength.
As a result, this gave her the much-needed incentive to take control of her eating habits, and in the course of her volunteering she became physically strong enough to start riding again. “It really helped me” she comments, “For one thing, because horses don’t judge, and I started seeing my body as strong and capable, and a tool which enabled me to communicate with the animals I love."
By April 2016, Anna felt as if she had at last conquered her anorexia. She had been doing freelance work but was at that point strong enough to return to full-time employment. After finding peace and serenity in the great outdoors with horses, she was now ready to give back, so she took a job as a communications officer with the Wildlife Trust. This seemed appropriate, as she had experienced the healing effects of nature, i.e. riding through the countryside, enjoying the peace with just a horse for company. She is convinced that is what helped her regain her health.
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