Anorexia and bulimia sufferers have opened up about what sparked their eating disorders and how they managed to overcome them.
Caroline, 41, started suffering from bulimia after feeling intensely lonely at boarding school; Tina, 46, suffered from such severe anorexia she dropped to just 4st and her tongue went black and Cheryl, 28, started ‘hating’ her body form the age of eight when she began going through puberty.
The women have all described their disorders in painful detail in a Channel Five documentary, Me and My Eating Disorder.
Describing how her battle with food began, Caroline, 41, now married with two children, said: ‘We lived in beautiful countries all over East Africa. I come from a family where you were conscious of far greater suffering of other people. People were starving.
‘Feeling sorry for yourself, moaning, whining, winging, it’s just not encouraged.
‘I somehow believed that containing my emotion was a good idea. I didn’t tell my family. I think I was probably depressed.’
Life at boarding school involved a lot of eating for Caroline and she started to gain weight.
‘There would be huge blocks of cheddar cheese, giant industrial size pots of chocolate spread,’ she said.
‘There was a girl in the house that told me there was a way of getting rid of the food she had eaten.
‘She would eat as much as she liked then make herself sick afterwards.’
Caroline began to copy her friend and would binge eat before making herself sick.
‘In a binge you might eat two packs of biscuits, maybe three, half a loaf of bread, a whole cake, three or four pastries and a pot of cream.
‘It’s actually painful to be so full. Once you have done it, it’s kind of a relief.
‘It’s exhausting and there’s also some quite anarchic about it.’
Caroline moved to London and her illness continued, unchecked.
‘It was one tiny trigger that eventually caused the whole thing to explode…I missed a bus.
‘I found myself screaming. I just lost control of myself.
‘When I managed to jump into a taxi, I realised there was little disembodied voice coming from my bag and it was my sister was on the phone.
‘So in all of that chaos I had somehow dialed her number and she had heard everything.
Describing her bulimia Caroline said: ‘The first few bites of food are pleasure but in a bitterly short moment of time it turns to, “What the hell am I doing? I can’t believe I’m doing this”‘
Caroline called her parents and confessed she need help.
‘That was the beginning of the end,’ she said.
‘I have now been free of any sort of eating disorder for ten years. ‘
For Tina, her unhealthy relationship with food began following a breakdown in her home life at the age of 13.
‘My childhood was really great. We were brought up in Dundee and we had what we thought was such an amazing family life. Everything seemed perfect.
‘I remember coming in to the house one day and my parents were both really upset screaming at each other, crying.
‘My dad hadn’t been paying bills, we were about to get the house repossessed, he hadn’t been having affairs.
‘Mum was very depressed – sometimes suicidal – I started to avoid going home.
‘I would be hanging around the park with homeless people in the dark on my own.
‘To be frank, at that point, I didn’t care if I lived or died.’
Tina can pinpoint the moment her anorexia began.
‘I was on a beach and I turned round and I don’t know to this day if I imagined it but I thought I hard someone saying my bum looked big.
‘I literally felt a snap going off in my head.
Caroline, a mother-of-two, has now been free of any sort of eating disorder for ten years
‘I can remember the exact moment, the exact context – everything.
‘That was it. That was the very moment I became anorexic. What I stared to see when I looked in the mirror was a fat horrible, worthless girl.
‘So what I needed to do was lose weight, then at least I would be good at something. My mission was to become the best anorexic in the world.’
Tina’s weight fell to four stone. ‘I was very skeletal and my skin had gone blue. My hair was a mess and my tongue went black,’ she said.
‘I stopped eating completely for a month – and I stopped drinking too.
Tina was then sectioned under the mental health act, which eventually saved her.
‘I hated the people who were trying to save my life at that point because I didn’t want to be saved.
‘I’d scream at them and tell the to f*** off and say, “How dare you touch me”.
‘I was kicking out, lashing out and saying things I would never say. This wasn’t me.
Caroline said: ‘There was a girl in the house that told me there was a way of getting rid of the food she had eaten. She would eat as much as she liked then make herself sick afterwards’
‘When I got out of hospital I was so much better physically and mentally but all that work that the hospital had done just unraveled as soon as I walked in the door.
‘I ran back to anorexia like a child needs it mother.
When Tina was readmitted to hospital she decided she was going to commit suicide.
She went into the toilet intending to end it all but was interrupted by the sobs of a fellow patient.
‘Just as I was about to do it, I heard a patient next to me getting upset. Just the sound of her next to me brought my focus into view,’ she said.
The idea that the patient in the next-door cubicle would see her blood trickling under the door, made her feel sympathy for the patient.
‘All the thoughts of my mum, my dad and my sisters came in – and I started being aware of them, which was an amazing breakthrough for me.
‘I didn’t have that before and I think it was because I was so malnourished.’
Tina was checked into rehab and said she eventually integrated back into society.
Cheryl said: ‘The only thing I looked forward to was chocolate. When I was little my mum would buy me chocolate, so I think I have always associated chocolate with feeling happy’
For Cheryl, 28, it was puberty that triggered her binge eating.
‘I started puberty around the age of eight and by the time I was 10 I was wearing women’s clothes and a 34DD bra.
‘I looked like a grown woman with a child’s face.
‘I hated my body at that age and I would have done almost anything to get the body I had before back.
‘I was full of anxiety. By the time I was 11 my mum had had at least three breakdowns, which contributed to how I was feeling.
‘The only thing I looked forward to was chocolate. When I was little my mum would buy me chocolate – one for me, one for her – so I think I have always associated chocolate with feeling happy.’
Chocolate was the only way Cheryl felt calm and she started gorging on them – eating at least 10 bars in a day.
Her parents urged her to lose weight but Cheryl ignored their requests.
‘I would scream and shout and tell them to leave me alone. They didn’t understand what was going on with myself – but neither did I.
‘Eating chocolate was the only time in my day I could stop feeling how I was feeling. I can only describe it as heaven.’
Eventually Cheryl asked her mother to send me to fat camp in America.
‘It was a great experience. I lost about 20lbs in four weeks.
‘But when you have an eating disorder, it’s not the disorder that’s the problem, it’s the emotional dependency.’
Cheryl has refrained from binging for the last 10 months.
‘My relationship with my body right now is still rocky.
‘In the grand scheme of things I am probably only half way there.’
Me and My Eating Disorder is on Channel Five tonight at 10pm