As part of our Let’s Talk About It campaign, Rachel Barsch, from Barnstaple, opens up about how she beat depression and anxiety through a new found love of health and fitness.

A Barnstaple woman has opened up about how she tackled anxiety and eating disorders through discovering a love of health and fitness.

Rachel Barsch went from being unable to leave the house due to crippling anxiety, to stepping on stage in a bikini for her first body building contest this year.

The 23-year-old said her mental health issues began when she started self harming at the age of nine or 10.

From there depression and anxiety took a hold, and she found the only time she could leave the house was for therapy appointments.

Rachel before she found her love of weight training.Rachel before she found her love of weight training.

After becoming homeless then being put in sheltered housing, Rachel said she was ‘trapped’ at home by depression, and would find herself obsessing over her looks.

“I was basically just surviving on coffee and energy drinks and I was so, so underweight,” said Rachel.

“I think I must have had a couple of good days in a row when I decided to look up aerial dance lessons in Barnstaple.

“When I found out there were lessons being taught less than half a mile away from my house, I roped in a friend to come with me and we went to our first session.”

Rachel on stage after coming second in her first bikini competition. Picture: Altitude58.Rachel on stage after coming second in her first bikini competition. Picture: Altitude58.

Whether it was the endorphins or the achievement of taking her first step, Rachel said she caught the buzz and within three months she was going to every single class.

“I think I replaced my obsession over not eating, with an obsession over exercise,” said Rachel.

“It wasn’t until I tore a ligament in my wrist I had to stop – but then I realised the world hadn’t ended and I knew I must be making progress.”

Rachel joined a gym and soon found a love of weight training – and alongside this she decided to take a course to become a personal trainer.

It was after this the idea of a bikini competition came around, and Rachel decided to take the leap and start her bodybuilding ‘prep’.

She entered the Devon Classic competition in Bideford in June, and placed second in her category.

“It was one of those things I had always wanted to do but never had the guts to admit it – I thought people would tell me I couldn’t or laugh at the idea,” she said.

“I was so nervous, but stepping on stage was amazing. I loved the routine of the food preparation and training, and I’m definitely going to compete again next year.”

Rachel has started a blog to share her experiences, and hopes it will encourage others in similar situations to turn to fitness.

She said: “Exercise should be utilised more with mental health. North Devon mental health services are really good, don’t get me wrong.

“They really helped me and I would never have got to my first fitness class without them, but there is no sort of sports therapy available.

“I definitely think if everyone was more open about mental health, people would realise many other people have those issues too.

“So many people messaged me after I posted my first blog post, who I thought were just ‘normal’, saying actually they had a really similar experience.”

Visit Rachel’s blog at