By Josh Saunders
An eating disorder sufferer who won the ‘best body’ award in school has overcame her 20-year struggle thanks to her chef husband.
Katina Nikou, 36, from Los Angeles, California, was 13-years-old when she started to dislike her developing curves and would comparing her weight and sized with other girls.
She developed sensitivities around food, fearing what boys would think about girls eating in public, which would lead her to skip meals or take small bites and throw the rest away.
In high school, she became determined to win the ‘Best Body’ award in her class at 18-years-old to validate her eating disorder and would go onto receive the haunting accolade.
Her struggle with food left her at an unhealthy 6st 5 (89lb) at her worst, where she claims she looked like ‘death’ and continued to struggle with depression, anxiety and later heart palpitations.
But ten-years-ago after meeting future-husband Adam, now 39, he started to teach her to appreciate food and over time the pair reversed her eating habits.
This year, she has got to the point where she feels ‘98% her best self’ and has even gone to co-host food show LA Happy, where she can now happily eat on camera.
Katina said: “In high school I was nerdy, had red hair, pale skin and although I managed to befriend the ‘popular kids’, it became my goal to prove I had the ‘best body’ in the senior class.
“In my head it would prove all the effort and time spent not eating was worth it and gave it validity, all the hours I lost needed to be for something, and I won it.
“There was a physical award and recognition in the year book for having the ‘best body’ in the class and thought it was the greatest thing in the entire world.
“But at my worst I looked like death. I looked anaemic, sad, unhealthy and was extremely insecure, which was weird because I was skinny just how I wanted.
“After developing bulimia, I suffered with heart palpitations and my chest would hurt a lot too – I was doing serious damage to myself, which made me scared and angry.
“My husband was the turning point, he was a chef at the restaurant I worked in. He taught me about food, he helped me to love and appreciate it.
“Thanks to him, instead of food scaring me it started to excite me instead, which was beautiful.
“Now when I see pictures and read old journals, I feel like I don’t recognise myself, I don’t know that girl who was so sad and disappointed in life, it breaks my heart.
“I’m not that person anymore, there is spirit inside of me. I never thought I would host a food show, eating food in front of people on a daily basis.
“Now I am bubbly, full of life and am so happy, I could tell from my eyes before that I was sad and there was just emptiness.”
Katina started thinking about her size at eight-years-old after her school started weighing the children – she thinks this ‘unusual’ act could have led to pupils comparing their weight with one another.
In dance classes, being thinner was encouraged and as she started to develop curves during puberty, Katina become determined to do anything she could to halt it.
She said: “I was very aware of boys watching me eat in the lunch room, how they perceived the girls eating, if they thought a girl ate too much and more.
“I would eat a few tiny bites, enough to get by throughout the day, and discard the rest. I couldn’t eat a whole meal.
“I got to a point where I was very image obsessed, super paranoid and didn’t have much colour in my skin through lack of nutrition, I was overthinking everything all the time.
“Weight became a big deal, I was a size zero and then a size two, but anything over that left me wanting to die.”
When looking back at photographs and rereading old journals, Katina says she can no longer recognise the ‘sad and disappointed’ girl within the pages.
Despite ‘achieving’ her goal of being thinner, she recalls how unhappy she remained and as her health worsened from years of abusing her body, her mental health suffered further.
Katina said: “As I carried into college life, it became harder to not eat, you’re going to parties, have all weird hours, sleep until noon and then a job at another hour.
“After I ate a little bit and gained weight, I began to throw up the food instead. I thought it was the easiest way to stay skinny.
“After two or three years on and off, I could feel things happening in my heart and other symptoms that were scaring me. I was risking my own life for this thought process.
“I felt defeated and didn’t like anything I saw, which played into my relationships and whenever I looked in the mirror I couldn’t see reality, it was staring at a fun house mirror.”
After two decades battling her eating disorder she is at a healthy weight and is happier than she has ever been.
While she admits there are still eating disorders triggers, thanks to her strong relationship with husband-of-five-years, Adam, she is able to remain on track.
Katina said: “It’s only the last year where I have felt 98% back to my best self.
“I made a food show with friends, I love food and the culinary world. With eating disorders, you are robbed by negative thoughts that hold you prisoner.
“I don’t ever want to be there again and now want to give people something to believe in and to know when you have the right support system anything is possible.
“The world we live in is focussed on body image and I don’t want that to be a mental prison for others, I want people to do great and live happy lives.”