How bodybuilding saved a law grad from a decade-long eating disorder battle

How bodybuilding saved a law grad from a decade-long eating disorder battle

9 months ago

Bodybuilding seems like an unlikely hobby for someone who has battled anorexia for almost half their life.

But for the aptly-named Hannah Gane, it made perfect sense.

In a twist that makes the 25-year-old's story even more remarkable, the law graduate gained the confidence to compete from scrolling on social media - notorious for ruining body confidence - while recovering on an eating disorder unit.

"Some people say to me, 'You've just swapped one obsession for another'. That is true, but that's just my personality. I'm an obsessive person," Gane told JOE.

Battling with anorexia

Gane developed anorexia age 13, with the disorder that impacts 1.25 million Brits, coinciding with the death of her father.

Until then, life was "beautiful" for the law graduate, who grew up in Somerset, with her mum, dad, and two siblings.

"I had a really lovely childhood - quite privileged, actually. I went to a good school and did everything I wanted to - I was really, really happy."

Gane had anorexia throughout high school and added that "traumatic events can really destroy your life."

She sought help but believes that assistance - through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) - only made things worse: "They were terrible," she said of CAMHS.

"I had bars on my windows… I wasn't allowed to sit with other people, I was wheelchaired to the toilet. It was worse than prison."

Gane said she was banned from attending school and weighed regularly, an exercise that made her feel ashamed regardless of what the scale showed: "They'd tell me off when I lost weight but never say 'well done' if you'd put on weight. It was just horrible."

Making grand plans

While Gane got better as she got older, things got "much worse again" when she left home for law school.

The degree was "incredibly difficult"; so was living alone in a small room.

Anorexia became a means of reclaiming some form of control over her life.

Having tricked the system to escape CAHMS as a rebellious teen, Gane found herself being readmitted to hospital while at uni.

She was in a general hospital for five weeks: "I wasn't allowed into the eating disorder unit as I was too ill."

Hannah Gane, 25, from Somerset, experienced two traumatic events which triggered anorexia.

After being discharged, Gane relapsed, but after leaving hospital for a second time, she vowed never to return.

"That's when I told myself I never wanted to go back to hospital. It's also when I discovered bodybuilding," Gane said, adding that she had spent her days in the eating disorder unit scrolling social media.

From the gram to the gym

Social media often exacerbates body image anxieties, but Gane said that depends on an individual's outlook. For her, it led to joining a gym.

"If you're in a positive mindset, you'll look at it as inspiration. But when you're in that negative mindset, you can look at it like, 'Oh, I'm not good enough'," Gane explained.

The unusualness of Gane's journey also seemingly caught Instagram off guard. When pictures of her weightlifting progress were posted by, the platform removed them, deeming them "offensive".

That "really upset" Gane.

"I wasn't promoting anorexia, I was doing the opposite."

From cardio to crushing it

When Gane first joined the gym, she simply did cardio, unaware that while the exercise was good for building fitness, it is mostly utilised for shedding weight.

She instead enlisted the help of an online coach who had been on a similar journey. She helped Gane "manage food in a healthy way" and to realise that bodybuilding could provide the framework for healthy, gradual weight gain.

"To gain muscle, you have to put weight on. Ask Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronnie Coleman... They've all had to do it," Gane said.

A physiotherapist helped Gane build a foundation of strength - something she was grossly lacking.

"The first year, I couldn't do anything. I couldn't lift my head off the floor or step up onto a step. He just helped me to move my body."

Gane's mother, who sat in the hospital "with me for 10 hours a day, every day", provides a well of inspiration for the budding bodybuilder.

"People say they do whatever they do for themselves, but I'm doing this for my mum."

Hannah says she took up bodybuilding for her mother, not herself.

Making real Ganes

Performing her first sit-up was huge progress for Gane: "That was a feeling of getting stronger. My hair started growing back and I just felt better."

But now she has her sights set on the stage and is preparing for her first competition within the next year. Gane plans to compete in the bikini category which places particular emphasis on developed glutes and shoulders.

"I train lower body three times a week - which is savage. I focus on form and technique over anything and I do sometimes let it get to me when my form isn't right, but that's just my personality," Gane said.

But when it comes to diet, Gane is a little less forthcoming. She doesn't share the number of calories and macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) she consumes each day due to the detrimental impact she thinks it could have on others.

"Every day is a battle for me," Gane said, stressing the importance of taking personal responsibility for her predicament. "I do have an obsessive personality and I'm not in denial about that. But you need to be the one to admit that something is wrong, accept it and change it."

Gane's advice to others is simple: Set a goal and find your passion.

"When you have anorexia, you don't see any reason to gain weight. You think, 'What's the point?' "But try to set yourself a big goal. Mine is to step on stage as a bodybuilder and I will not stop until I get there."

For help, guidance and further information on eating disorders, the charity BEAT keep their helplines open 365 days a year 

NHS advice on eating disorders can be found here