Angela Scanlon opens up about her 15-year eating disorder

After years spent battling an eating disorder and searching for a cure for her deep-seated insecurities, TV presenter Angela Scanlon reveals all about her journey towards self-acceptance, gratitude and joy...

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angela scanlon interview

On the surface, everything appeared to have fallen into place for Angela Scanlon. Her TV career was flourishing. There were glamorous magazine shoots. She had a lucrative contract with a big-name hair brand. Plus, there was no shortage of invites to prestigious events. But behind the high-functioning façade, Angela Scanlon was barely holding it together, tortured by self-doubt, a fixation on comparison and an eating disorder that she battled for 15 years.

Here was a woman with everything she had ever dreamed of. Yet, at the time, Scanlon says she felt nothing but an overwhelming sense of emptiness. ‘It was alarming to get to this place where you think: “This is it. This is the dream gig,” and to feel worse than you have in a really long time,’ she says, recalling being given the plum job of covering Alex Jones’ maternity leave on The One Show, in 2016.

‘On paper, I had all that I had ever wanted, but there was just a complete disconnect, and I felt huge discomfort in my own skin. People would see me on telly having a fun time, because I knew how to present the version of me I was happy to put out there.

‘But I found it impossible to enjoy it, because I didn’t know who the hell I really was. And it was incredibly distressing because there was suddenly this stark realisation that the work stuff I’d been putting everything into, wasn’t going to “fix” me after all.’

On paper, I had all that I had ever wanted, but there was just a complete disconnect, and I felt huge
discomfort in my own skin.

Angela Scanlon

Scanlon’s torment and subsequent healing journey are laid bare in her new book, Joyrider (Vermilion, £16.99), an inspirational and beautifully written collection of deeply personal life experiences and the lessons she’s taken from them.

She describes having had ‘foundations built on quicksand’, detailing how perfectionism and a desire to people-please have been embedded since childhood. Angela Scanlon also opens up for the first time about a 15-year eating disorder that began in her teens as a rejection of puberty. It then evolved into a desperate need for control.

To regular viewers of The One Show and BBC Two’s interiors hit, Your Home Made Perfect, who know County Meath-born Scanlon, 38, as a confident, whip-smart and hugely likeable host, learning of her inner turmoil will no doubt come as quite a surprise. And she admits to feeling nervous about showing so much vulnerability.

‘I’m not going to lie; it’s been quite a trip writing it!’ she says. ‘But it’s also been cathartic, and getting it out there feels like a relief. The whole process was about digging around, figuring out who I am and learning to accept all the sh*tty, ugly, unreasonable parts of me as well.

‘I used to want to take a shiny pill, and would have paid any amount of money for a switch to be flicked and for me to have it all worked out.’

angela scanlon interview
‘I used to want to take a shiny pill, and would have paid any amount of money for a switch to be flicked and for me to have it all worked out.’

Angela Scanlon opens up about her eating disorder

Although mum-of-two Angela Scanlon recognises some of her issues began at a young age, it was and eating disorder, in the form of anorexia and bulimia, that took hold as a teen that caused her to start spiralling. By 20, she was spending periods surviving on black coffee and tinned pineapple. This would leave her on the verge of collapse.

Speaking publicly about her eating disorder journey for the first time, Angela Scanlon says: ‘When it felt like my body was changing and I was becoming a woman, I didn’t feel equipped for that in any way, shape or form. That was the start of it, and then it just escalated and became my coping mechanism.

‘I was committed, but I did it silently. Keeping [my eating disorder] secret meant it was less messy in many respects, or at least the mess was private,’ Angela Scanlon explains. ‘And I kept it hidden for a really long time; this shameful little secret I couldn’t open up to anybody about. It was so isolating.

I kept [my eating disorder] hidden for a really long time; this shameful little secret I couldn’t open up to anybody about. It was so isolating.

Angela Scanlon

‘People around me were kind of aware, but it’s an impossible thing to help somebody with if they’re not open to being helped. Which I wasn’t.’ Angela Scanlon recalls excruciating family meals where she should have been enjoying herself but was instead working out an escape route, due to her eating disorder.

‘I had just gone completely in on myself. Those family social occasions are often the most difficult for somebody struggling with an eating disorder, because you’re supposed to be having a good time and yet you know people’s eyes are on your fork, and in your mind you’re plotting your exit.

‘I think the lies you tell people are also where the shame comes from. The constant: “Oh, yeah, I had lunch earlier on”. You’re lying to everybody, trying to cover your tracks, and it’s just a very lonely place to live.’

Angela Scalon on how motherhood healed her relationship with her body

Although Angela Scanlon’s eating disorder struggles are behind her now, replaced in her late 20s and ‘seemingly overnight’ with an addiction to work (the obsession over food, she explains, switched to her career), it wasn’t until she became a mum that Scanlon’s recovery truly began. Although she struggled to adapt to motherhood, having daughter Ruby, now four, gave her a completely new perspective on her body.

‘I think the experience of birthing and feeding a baby, and then of watching this little girl revel in her own gorgeous rolls, made me realise how detached I’d become from my body. The one I had punished, overfed, underfed, and didn’t love at all. The one I had been abusing for years.

‘I was also acutely aware of how judgmental I was of other people’s bodies, too, and I didn’t ever want Ruby to feel like she was under scrutiny from anyone around her. So that became a big motivation for me to really start to look at how I related to my own body.

The experience of birthing made me realise how detached I’d become from my body. The one I had punished, overfed, underfed and didn’t love at all.

Angela Scanlon

‘I’m in awe of what it’s done. I also have massive regret for the torture I put it through.’ The soul-searching Scanlon has done over the past few years, aided by therapy, has allowed her to settle into motherhood with much more ease second time round. Today, 12-week-old Marnie snuggles peacefully on her chest in the sling as Scanlon chats. She says it feels entirely different to the fraught and bewildering early months she remembers with Ruby.

‘Marnie’s a pretty chilled little baby and breastfeeding has worked for me this time, which has helped massively. Feeding was so horrendous the last time and, although I ploughed through, it had real implications for everybody, I think. But everything feels easier and more relaxed now.’

That in itself is bittersweet, though. ‘On one hand, I’m managing to have these lovely, slow, intimate little moments where I feel absolutely present. And then I feel pangs of guilt, because that wasn’t my experience with Ruby. So I’m trying to manage that and just hope that what I did was enough for her. ‘But that’s part of being a mother, isn’t it? Constantly asking yourself: “Oh, Jesus, did I get that
right – or so far wrong?!’”

angela scanlon
‘I didn’t ever want [my daughter] to feel like she was under scrutiny from anyone around her. So that became a big motivation for me to really start to look at how I related to my own body.’

Angela Scanlon on maternity leave and finding balance

Scanlon doesn’t plan to return to work until the fourth series of Your Home Made Perfect begins filming in September. She went back just 12 weeks after having Ruby, armed with a double breast pump, while still mentally and emotionally reeling. She acknowledges now that she needed more time off. However, her hunger to get back came from the aforementioned addiction to work. This meant her personal life ‘was always up for grabs’.

She says: ‘Maternity leave can be a challenge because there’s a sense that you’re stopping while everybody else flies ahead, and you’re never going to catch up again. There’s this mad urgency to get back because otherwise you’re going to be forgotten about. It’s pervasive, it’s everywhere, and while it can keep you moving, it’s also suffocating.’

Being forced to take her foot off the gas during the 2020 lockdown, when her TV projects were suspended, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. With time and space to reflect, Angela Scanlon was ‘able to breathe for a second’. It began to dawn on her the extent to which comparison had been ruling her life. ‘I felt okay with lockdown because I knew everyone else had stopped too. But I was only all right because this person and that person weren’t doing anything either.

‘I hadn’t realised just how much my own sense of satisfaction was tied to the success of others. I was measuring everything I did against multiple other people and, so, on any given day, I either triumphed or I fell short. It was never a pure reaction to where I was myself – it was always in relation to others.’

I was measuring everything I did against multiple other people and, so, on any given day, I either triumphed or I fell short.

Angela Scanlon

These days, Scanlon makes a conscious decision to focus her attention elsewhere. She strives to be grateful for all the positives in her life, however small. This is the ‘joyriding’ the title of the book refers to – the deliberate swerve into a ‘sweeter lane’. The practice has taken a long time to master. But it has been life-changing for Scanlon.

‘I just feel more comfortable. I don’t have it together all the time. Sometimes I get my knickers in a twist about the most inane, trivial things, and I’m definitely not “fixed”. But that’s not the goal now. I have a little toolbox that makes things less daunting when I feel like I’ve veered off course. I’m like: “Okay, I know this.”

‘Sometimes, I fail miserably, and that’s been the big growth for me. It’s not about getting to a place where I’ve got it all figured out. But realising that when things are thrown at us, we get to choose how we react to them, and even if we faceplant, we can get up and try again tomorrow.’

She says her new mindset has strengthened her relationship with her entrepreneur husband of eight years Roy Horgan, 43. Scanlon describes Roy as ‘the yin to my yang’. She says: ‘Our relationship has changed massively in terms of communication. I think I was completely incapable of that before. I’m easier on myself, which means I can be a little bit easier on him, too.’

Angela Scanlon on finding joy in work projects

As well as the forthcoming series of Your Home Made Perfect, Angela Scanlon’s gratitude-focused podcast, Thanks a Million, is now into its fifth season. Last summer, she launched her jewellery brand, FRKL; her chat show, Ask Me Anything, returns for a second series on Irish network RTÉ in the autumn; and she recently became the face of Olay, which she describes as a real ‘pinch me’ moment.

‘My granny used it when it was still Oil of Ulay. I remember that iconic little square bottle on her dressing table,’ she says. ‘When they approached me about working together, I had just written about that memory of my granny in the book, which was really weird. I was like: “Oh my God, yes!”. It’s such a nostalgic brand for me, as well as being a truly amazing science-led product.’

Life is an absolute big bag of tricks and that’s part of the joy and also part of the terror.

Angela Scanlon

The joy Scanlon feels from all these projects is real and tangible now. It’s this emotion that she keeps on coming back to. ‘I’d lost the ability to access any sort of joy, happiness or lightness, because I was completely denying all of the other emotions,’ she says. ‘But in trying to squash the bad ones, I’d also turned off my connection to the good ones, to the point where I was numb and everything felt flat.’

What does she hope people will take away from the book? Scanlon smiles at the question. ‘Oh, that it’s all a f**ing rollercoaster, isn’t it? Life is an absolute big bag of tricks and that’s part of the joy and also part of the terror. Some days we’ll deal with it and, on other days, it’ll all fall to sh*t – and that’s okay too! All of it is okay. ‘We should welcome all the emotions. That’s the melting pot of being human.’

Joyrider: How Gratitude Can Help You Get The Life You Really Want by Angela Scanlon is out 12 May (Vermilion, £16.99).

Words: Beth Neil | Images: Shutterstock – Aaron Hurley

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