My story just goes to show that there doesn’t need to be anything ‘wrong’ to send your life off-track. I had a truly happy childhood, with a wonderful family and great friends. I excelled at school. I was lucky enough to enjoy fantastic family holidays and many school trips, resulting in memories I’ll cherish for ever.
At some point, though, I began to feel unhappy with how I looked. I couldn’t say exactly what it was – I wasn’t overweight, I was perfectly healthy, and I was slim. But I became increasingly self-conscious about my appearance. It wasn’t what I wanted to look like.
To try and boost my self-esteem, I decided to go on a diet. Nothing extreme – or so I thought at the time. With every pound I lost, I congratulated myself. I was proud of how well I could control my eating. I’d found something I was really good at.
I began to set myself challenges: “If you’ve lost this much in this time, I bet you could lose another xx pounds by such-and-such a date.” That set the pattern for ever more extreme behaviour, though of course I didn’t realise it at the time. The need to consume fewer calories than I used became an obsession – it was no longer simply a goal, it was essential. I decided 1500 calories a day was greedy, so I cut down to 1000. Then I decided that if I could do that, dropping down to 800 would be easy.
My mum could see what was happening, so she took me to our doctor. But because I was still in within a healthy weight range, they just told her to take me back if I lost more weight.
And, of course, that’s exactly what happened.
Over the next seven years, I was admitted to hospital seven times. There were also three inpatient stays of between four and six months at various eating disorder units. One of these was 90 miles away from my home – there simply wasn’t anywhere closer that had room for me. My hair started to fall out. I had panic attacks on a daily basis. I had barely any friends as I’d pushed them all away, and I ended up taking both my GCSE and A level exams in hospital. On numerous occasions, the doctors would wake me at night because they thought my heart was about to stop – I still have nightmares about that. By the time I was 19 years old I had osteoporosis – weak and brittle bones.
And even in this state, as terrible as it was, all I could hear was this voice inside me that said I didn’t deserve any better. Let me tell you, an eating disorder is not glamorous. People joke about anorexia or bulimia as the way to achieve that elusive ideal figure, but once you’re on that road it takes over your entire life. In fact, there’s a good chance it will take that away too.
I was admitted to hospital for the final time when I was 19 years old. My weight was just over five stones – around 32kg – and my heart rate was fewer than 30 beats per minute. My organs were failing. Everyone was convinced I was going to die.
After assessing me under the Mental Health Act, I was judged “at high risk of imminent death” and the doctors put me back on a feeding tube. My mum even told the nurses not to feel bad, that my family had accepted what was going to happen, because she didn’t want them to feel guilty when I died. But she asked them to keep me alive as long as they could, just in case a miracle happened.
And I guess you could say it did. Because, suddenly, I was scared about what was happening to me. How had I let things get this far? I didn’t want to die, I really didn’t – but what if it was too late? I vowed this was the last time I’d have to be fed by a tube.
Of course, it wasn’t an overnight recovery. Once I was medically stable and allowed home, I did some research and found a medical trial in London for repetitive transcranial stimulation therapy (rTMS). This form of treatment uses magnets to stimulate the brain – it’s used to treat depression and anxiety. The trial focused on the area of the brain believed to be involved in the development of anorexia. The research is still in its infancy, but for me I can honestly say I haven’t looked back. It’s quite literally been a lifesaver as far as I’m concerned.
I needed to build up my strength up, but I had to be careful after the trauma by body had been through. My first step was to join a gym, and that’s where I discovered my passion. I learned about proper nutrition and how to give my body what it needed. In time, I began to compete in powerlifting competitions. These taught me to challenge myself in a positive way, and how to appreciate my body for its strength.
This was the biggest motivator for me to recover fully, and I started to document my journey on Instagram. I wanted to show others who have suffered from eating disorders that it’s possible to move on. You can fight back, you can beat it, and you can go on to have the life you truly deserve.
I’m now in my final year of university, where I’m studying sport and exercise science. I’ve got two jobs and I’m loving student life. There are a couple more powerlifting competitions coming up soon.
Yet three years ago, nobody even thought I’d still be alive today. I’m living proof that you can recover from anorexia. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy – it’s not a Disney movie. It’s scary and hard and there are times when you feel you simply can’t do it. You have to learn to reach out for help when you need it, to trust the professionals and lean on your loved ones who want you to be well again.
Believe me, you will never find happiness in anorexia or any other eating disorder so if my story resonates with you, please give yourself a chance. There are people who want to help, but you need to want it yourself. I can promise you it’s worth it.