Anorexia is an eating disorder characterised by the sufferer’s irrational fear of weight gain, accompanied by lack of eating, often causing extreme weight loss.
Lucy’s story began when she was 13 and started high school.
“I was always a little bit chubby growing up, but who isn’t? My friends accepted me for who I was. That all changed when I went to high school. There are two schools in the local area and my friendship group split up between the two. I was sad, but really looked forward to making new friends. It didn’t turn out so well. I struggled to make new friends, and the new people I’d meet started poking fun at me because of my size. At first, I just took it, until one day I noticed some stretch marks on one of my legs and on my tummy. I thought they were probably right, I was fat, so I told my mum I wanted to diet. Looking back, I didn’t really eat badly to start with, but I insisted I would swap chips for salad, sweets for fruit, pop for water, that kind of thing.”
It sounds like Lucy was making a very good decision, not cutting out food, but simply substituting for healthier options.
“It started very well, I lost almost a stone in a month. I was still in my healthy limits, and I started to feel so much better about myself, and my friends even started to notice that I was losing weight. Of course, the bullies didn’t, and I kept on dieting, but I was bullied more for I was trying to fit in.”
Lucy, aged 17 at this point, had lost a lot of weight, and at 5’5 and weighing around 7st 10lb (over 3st lighter than she was a year previously), she was beginning to look very thin. But she couldn’t see it.
“By the time I had been dieting for a year, I was not on the same diet as I started on. I was literally eating one undressed salad per day, and drinking water, chewing on gum to stop myself feeling hungry. The weight was falling off, and I felt much more confident. I would tell my mum I had eaten at a friend’s house, or that I would get something after I had done my homework. I never did, but she didn’t seem to notice. My little brother kept her busy; he was eight years younger than me.
I continued like this for what seemed like ages until I started collapsing, and when I came around, one of my friends came to me and said I looked tired, and was I ok. I snapped at her and told her she must have been jealous and ran to the toilets, where I cried for hours, missing classes. My German teacher had noticed I should have been in his lesson and came looking for me. When he eventually found me, he took me to an office with one of the school’s youth support team, and asked me about my weight loss. I tried to deny it, but how could I?”
When Lucy finally saw the school nurse, she weighed just over 6st and was painfully thin to look at. The nurse then referred her on to speak to a counsellor, who specialised in working with teenagers with eating disorders.
“I was told that my reaction was normal for some people and it had a name: anorexia. I thought people with anorexia were really bony and skinny, and this is when I realised, that is exactly what I was. A walking skeleton. We talked for a while, and she was very friendly, but very firm, and emphasised that I needed to put weight on quickly, as my periods had stopped, which meant that I had been so hard on my body that there was a possibility I had jeopardised my chances of having children in the future.
This hit me hard, but I just couldn’t reintroduce food. I was given some medical nutrition in the form of a strawberry-flavoured drink. I struggled with it at first, but I knew I had to get it into me otherwise I would never get better. The drinks tasted great, which made it easier to take them, and gradually I began to reintroduce proper food until I was eating three small meals each day, using my drinks as a supplement to help me to bulk up. Thankfully, I am now aged 20 and back to being a healthy weight.”
Looking back, Lucy cannot believe what she put her family through. Her relationship with her mum is much stronger now she is has dealt with her illness and accepted it. The main thing she communicates now is that, if someone is bullied, they must speak to someone they trust, before things get out of hand, as her situation did. It wasn’t an easy road to recovery, and sometimes it is still difficult, but thanks to her friends, family and teachers, she has since recovered and is pregnant with her first child.