For the first time in more than a decade, Sophie Mei will not be writing ‘lose weight’ on her New Year’s Resolution list.
After battling a cruel eating disorder that nearly robbed her of her life, the South Yorkshire mum-of-two has resolved that 2016 is the year she will be happy and healthy.
“I’ve spent my life trying to tone, sculpt and starve myself, like some sort of imperfect sculpture that can be cut or carved,” says Sophie.
“My pursuit for perfection saw me literally put my life on the line, but it never brought me any contentment.”
‘Bellydancing Queen’ Sophie became a household name on Britain’s Got Talent in 2008 when her shimmying hips caught the eye of Simon Cowell - along with most of the nation’s male population.
These days the 27-year-old, originally from Pitsmoor and currently living in Wakefield, juggles her passion for dancing with her work as a broadcast journalist and her responsibilities as mum to Jasmine, aged three, and Arianna, who turns one this month.
She also blogs about her life under the name MameMei, which is how she chose to reveal her heartbreaking struggle to the world, in a letter penned directly to her eating disorder, ‘Dear Ana,’ which she entitled: ‘a letter to the bully inside me.’
In it, she vowed to ‘eat, drink and be merry’ over the festive season - something she’s pleased to confirm she did, though it hasn’t always been easy as Christmas and New Year tend to be ‘trigger’ seasons for her.
“This is my eating disorder’s favourite time of year,” she explains.
“There were some festive periods I can barely remember because it made me feel so lonely. The disorder consumed my every thought and numbed my every feeling.”
Sophie still has a vivid memory of the first whisperings in her ear telling her she was fat and unworthy as, at age 11, she tucked into her favourite meal of Yorkshire puddings and sausages.
She recalls: “Whilst my friends were fighting over Polly Pockets, I was running to the toilet to cough, choke and bring up any ‘bad’ food I had eaten. I remember copying the bulimic woman off Fat Friends.
“But it wasn’t just about the food. My eating disorder began to steal my mind too, slowly sapping every part of me.
“By the time I was 18 - the age to go out, be independent and start life as an adult - I had become insular and obsessed.”
In 2010, her bodily functions beginning to fail, she was admitted to an eating disorder unit.
“I was so close to death, the staff at the unit told me I was the ‘worst bulimic’ they’d ever seen,” she says.
A turning point came at Christmas 2011 when her belly was bulging, but this time it nothing to do with the relentless cycle of gorging and purging, and it was a huge cause for celebration; Sophie was pregnant.
“My body had fulfilled one of its main purposes, something I didn’t think it would be capable of, and this hugely shifted my mind-set,” she reveals.
“My body now had an amazing purpose, a function much greater than the eating disorder I’d allowed to consume it for so long.”
The next nine months flew by as Sophie began to crave and enjoy foods that hadn’t previously touched her lips for years.
She says: “It was like the new life inside me had killed the disorder; I had another heartbeat to focus on.”
But her reprieve was short-lived. By the next Christmas, the proud mum-of-one was already starting to feel the familiar fear of food set back in.
“It continued to poison me,” she says.
“I was so ecstatic to have my beautiful baby, but still the disorder continued to fester in me.” The following year Sophie and her fiance Chris discovered they were having another baby, but still Sophie couldn’t find any peace from her disorder. As her body craved stodge for her growing baby, she exercised to compensate.
In January 2015 she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Arianna.
“As soon as my daughter was out of the womb, the restrictions began again,” she recalls.
“My disorder wouldn’t even give me a day to dwell in maternal bliss. It told me I didn’t deserve her, that I was too fat to be seen out in public.
“As I sipped black tea next to my sleeping newborn, my heart was with her, but my head was somewhere else.”
With the love and support of her family, Sophie has worked hard at finding the strength to turn down the negative voice of her disorder and, today, things are looking bright, as she prepares to walk down the aisle to fiance Chris early this year.
She says: “I am so fortunate to have my two girls and Chris by my side.
“Most days I can shut the disorder away and I’ve learnt that by treating myself well, even when I don’t feel like it, the wave of self-destruction soon passes; so on those dark days, I ‘ride the wave’ as my therapist used to say.”
As 2016 kicks off, Sophie says she feels strong and is determined that, this year, her mind and body will be with her family, not obsessed with dieting and calorie counting.
“I want to eat for nourishment, run in the fresh air and live in the moment,” she smiles.
“I hope people will join me in, not worrying about losing weight, but instead aiming for a healthy and happy New Year where we take control of our own lives
“When I walk down the aisle, I want to glow from the inside and that comes from mental health and self worth. That’s why my New Year’s Resolution this year is to learn to love myself - just as I am.”
Visit Mama Mei for more of Sophie’s blog.