Binge eating was unintentional self-harm

The Apprentice runner-up Camilla Ainsworth tells GABRIELLE FAGAN how lockdown led her to readdress her relationship with food and why she’s opening up about it
Binge eating was unintentional self-harm

Camilla Ainsworth. Picture: Camilla Ainsworth/PA.

SHE’S the straight-talking businesswoman who took no prisoners in the boardroom, but an undiagnosed binge eating disorder caused The Apprentice star Camilla Ainsworth to seek help during lockdown.

The 25-year-old entrepreneur, who has built an empire with her nut milk drink MYLK PLUS, told fans in September that lockdown caused her unresolved issues with binge eating to spiral out of control. Gorging on crisps and chocolate as a coping mechanism, the social media star finally decided enough was enough.

Now in a healthier and happier place, here, Ainsworth explains how diagnosing the issue has helped her turn a corner, and why she thinks it’s important to raise awareness amongst her followers…

Where you nervous about speaking out publicly about your experiences with binge eating?

“I was a bit apprehensive at first. I think we’re all guilty of giving off this shiny image on Instagram. From the outside, it seems as though everything’s polished and that you’ve got your s*** together.

“But I just had to take a step back and think that it’s for the greater good. I’ve had loads of people messaging, saying they’ve been struggling with the same [issue] and that they never realised, from looking at my Instagram, that it’s something I’ve been experiencing for a while.

Camilla Ainsworth. Picture: Ainsworth/PA.
Camilla Ainsworth. Picture: Ainsworth/PA.

“It just goes to show that we’re all human. Even the people that do look like they have control in all areas often don’t.

“It’s such a common thing too. Often people will read a story about binge eating and think, ‘That’s me’, and they won’t know that it’s an actual disorder.

“You hear a lot about anorexia and other eating disorders, but you don’t really hear too much about binge eating. It’s only recently been added to the list of disorders, so for me it’s about raising awareness.”

When did the issue first start and how long have you been in recovery?

“I’ve had it since I was 18, on and off. It’s something I’ve always laughed off and made into a bit of a joke, so to finally diagnose it feels like a whole other ballgame.

“At the start of lockdown, it [the binge eating] spiralled out of control. It used be once every couple of weeks, but it rose to two or three times a week.

“I was working out and burning loads of calories, but I just wasn’t losing any weight or seeing results. It felt like I was doing everything for nothing and there was a sense of being in a no man’s land. Something just clicked. I started to implement a food diary, around 12 weeks ago, and I’ve also been practising mindful techniques too.”

Was it difficult to take control of the issue?

“Yes. You almost feel like you don’t have control – and I am a bit of a control freak. In business, I love to be involved in every stage and be in control of my actions and make other people accountable.

“With food, I can have no control. I’m on my second bowl of Cocoa Puffs before I realise I’ve done it – I’m almost in a bit of a trance.

“In the moment, food is comfort and you feel good, because of the flavours and all of the instant gratification that comes with eating. It’s frustrating though because afterwards, you don’t feel good at all.”

Why did you decide to speak out about it?

“I just thought this is something I’ve not really seen many people speaking openly about. When I was looking for other people out there talking about it, I couldn’t really find it, so I wanted to share my experience with recovery. It’s easier to talk about something with a bit of hindsight; now I’ve got measures in place that are really helping me, so I feel like I’m learning to curb the binges.

The Apprentice finalists, Camilla Ainsworth (right) and Sian Gabbidon. Picture: Ian West/PA.
The Apprentice finalists, Camilla Ainsworth (right) and Sian Gabbidon. Picture: Ian West/PA.

“If it had been the start of lockdown, when it was really bad, I think I would have struggled to talk about it then. But now I’ve armed myself with a bit of a toolkit and I’m getting through it, it’s easier to share, because I actually feel like I can add some value.”

What measures have you got in place to help?

“I’ve noticed that if I plan out my food in advance, it really helps me not to fall off again. I’ll plan out ideas for breakfast, tea and snacks. 

"A lot of my binges came when I was really busy and I didn’t have time to prepare anything, so I’d just eat whatever was available, in excess.

“I’ve been making healthy swaps as well. I’ve got a recipe for some banana and oat cookies with chocolate chips. I’m still satiating the sweet cravings, but it’s in healthier ways.

“For me, It’s all about the the mindful swaps and the pre-planning, and of course portion control, as binge-eaters can often never have ‘just one’ of something.”

What do you think caused your issues with binge eating?

“I was super active at school. I was in the swim team, netball and all the athletics competitions. It was fine back then though, because the dinners are portioned, so you can’t really have more than they give you.

“When I moved to sixth form, I could buy whatever I wanted; there was a sense of having control over what I wanted to eat. I was known as the girl that could just eat loads and never put on any weight.

“That kind of mentality of eating and playing up to a crowd just kind of continued. 

"When you get older, your metabolism slows down. I think over the last year especially, I’ve really noticed a difference in my metabolism and how much harder I have to work these days.

“It’s something that you just don’t make the connection with being a problem, until you notice you’re spiralling. It’s unintentional self-harm.”

Do you think you’ll ever overcome the issue?

“I don’t think I’ll ever be fully recovered from it, because I’ve got those intrinsic traits now, but it’s like exercising a muscle. You’ve just got to constantly make mindful choices.

“Eventually, over the years, I think I will build up a stronger toolkit that will help me to combat it and to make positive changes.

“Will it ever fully go away though? I doubt it, because I’ve got a very addictive personality type, which I can’t change about myself. It’s learning to manage your traits and be the healthiest version of yourself as a result of them.”

How do you deal with stress and look after your general wellbeing?

“Exercise for me is huge. It makes me feel 10 times better. I also like try and go outside, once a day at least, because working inside can cause me to have a bit of a lull with my wellbeing.

“I also have my little pet goats that have genuinely helped me quite a lot. They’re just always so happy and they make me laugh. Laughter is the best medicine, for sure.”

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