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Tin-Tin Ho was a teenage table tennis star who at 15 won a mixed doubles Commonwealth Games silver medal in her major international debut at Glasgow 2014.
Media interest grew when journalists realised her brother was called Ping and her “table tennis-obsessed” father had wanted to name his daughter Pong.
Ho appeared to cope admirably with the attention and expectation – she won further Commonwealth medals in 2018 and claimed a historic Tokyo 2020 Olympic place – but, privately, she was facing challenges.
“I’ve never revealed this before, but I’ve had a lot of issues with food,” she tells BBC Sport.
“At first I was very strict with what I was eating, then it went the other way with what some people would call binge eating and I think it all got a bit out of hand.”
Growing up, she never felt comfortable enough to seek a medical diagnosis but she has since sought professional help.
In the lead up to her third Commonwealth Games for England the 23-year-old, who is studying to become a doctor, says she is speaking about her journey with the hope it will help others.
Her interest in table tennis stemmed from her father turned coach and the training facility he created in their garage.
She was fascinated by the creativity and individual styles each player demonstrated in what she describes as one of the “most unpredictable” and “cool” sports.
Like many teenagers though, her adolescent years brought challenges and societal “stresses” which, combined with her pursuit of a career as a professional athlete, heightened those anxieties.
“I was pretty concerned about weight and that was another pressure I was putting on myself,” says the Olympian.
“I was 14 or 15 when I began trying to be healthy with my diet for performance reasons, but I started to become too strict with what I ate.
“First I’d avoid all carbohydrates and then I started to go overboard. I wouldn’t have breakfast until quite late in the day and then there was quite a bit of fasting.”
Her situation escalated during her first year at university.
“When I was living at home, my mum used to cook balanced, healthy meals,” she recalls.
“When I moved out, I felt more pressure to decide what to eat and diet-based issues were playing on my mind – like balancing my personal weight and athletic performance, along with thinking about issues concerning meat consumption and the environment.
“I started to cut out meat and dairy and I didn’t quite know what to eat.
“It was quite draining because I couldn’t focus on important things like studies and table tennis because I was very worried about food.”
Hunger cravings drove her to “binge” and “eat uncontrollably”, but she would then experience feelings of extreme guilt.
“I’d eat bags of oats all of the time and my team-mates knew that I had this oat obsession.
“It was kind of a joke between us but now I look back and realise that a lot of oats, a cup of water and maybe a bit of yogurt or fruit is what I’d eat every day and it was not the healthiest diet.”
Her brother visited her at university in Nottingham in late 2018 and it proved to be a pivotal moment.
“I was getting anxious around every meal and throughout the time he came to visit it was on my mind, so that made me feel bad because I wasn’t focused on spending time with him,” Ho recalls.
“I started to realise there was an issue.”
After revealing her struggles to her brother, she decided to reach out and work with a therapist. She also decided to tell close friends and her Table Tennis England team coach.
To supplement the professional therapy sessions Ho also started a journal to record how she was dealing with the stresses in her life.
“Some days I still get those feelings [of anxiety], but I have this special group of people around so if I’m worried I’m eating too much they’ll remind me I’m training three times a day and I’m like, ‘OK, good point!'”
Just over two years after first seeking help, she became the first British woman to qualify for an Olympic Games through her world ranking since 1996.
Ho says her Tokyo 2020 appearance would not have been possible had she not sought help.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s not like you speak about it [your problems] and it gets better immediately. It takes time, but trust the process,” says Ho.
“I was advised that no-one is too small to talk about what they’re going through,” says Ho, who is interested in potentially pursuing a career in psychiatry after her medical studies.
“You’re just as important even if your problems seem smaller than others and if you speak to someone you can get the help you deserve.”
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