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‘I feel calmer, more at ease’: beating anorexia through boxing

An English charity is helping young people tame anxiety disorders through boxing. For some, it’s been transformational

An English charity is helping young people tame anxiety disorders through boxing. For some, it’s been transformational

Until Enya, 15, began boxing, she had anxiety so severe that she was unable to eat for fear of choking.

Her anxiety manifested in an eating disorder which left her severely underweight. “The doctors warned me that if I didn’t start eating, I could lose my eyesight and my hearing, and my organs would just shut down. They said I had a couple of weeks left because it was that severe,” she said.

Enya is one of an estimated 8 million people in the UK who are currently suffering from an anxiety disorder, and the number of young people experiencing eating disorders is on the rise.

Following a year of treatment with the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Service – run by England’s National Health Service – Enya was referred to Empire Fighting Chance by her school. The Bristol charity uses a combination of non-contact boxing and intensive personal support to help young people experiencing emotional and behavioural issues as a result of social and economic inequality.

For Enya, spending one day a week at Empire has proven transformative. Her attendance at school has rocketed from virtually zero to 84 per cent. She suffers far less with anxiety and has re-established a healthier relationship with food.

“I know I have to eat when I train because if I don’t I get migraines,” she said. “I love my boxing and I want to carry on with it, so I’ve got to eat the things that I need.”

She says she has fallen in love with the sport and feels optimistic for the future. Having completed a coaching qualification with Empire, she will join the charity as an apprentice when she finishes school.

“I put my gloves on and feel ten times different when I take them off,” she says. “I feel a lot calmer, more at ease and a lot happier because I’ve got all the worries and all the anxiety out.”

Main image: Alex Turner

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