‘When I looked in the mirror, a mound of blubber stared back’

Katie Metcalfe, 21, is starting a creative writing degree at Cumbria University, but seven years ago her life was very different.

“My battle with anorexia started when I was 14. My situation at the time was unusual: I was at a Rudolph Steiner school in Botton Village, near Whitby, in a class with three other boys. The pressure of being the only girl with hormone-raging teenagers was enormous. I had no self-confidence, and my body became a focus of paranoia.

“Stress in my life multiplied when my parents told me there was trouble in their marriage. In addition, we were about to move house.

“Nothing in my life seemed to be right. I started to think that perhaps if I lost some weight and improved my fitness, things would change for the better. I assumed that thin people had fantastic lives and I could too.

“I made a New Year’s resolution to go on a diet, so I began to restrict my eating. I cut out fats, carbs and dairy, and lived on rice cakes, apples and lettuce.

“As I began to lose weight I started to feel that life was worth living. At last I seemed to be achieving something. A voice began to whisper in my ear, and as I lost more weight, it became louder. Eventually, it was all I could hear. Nothing mattered more than satisfying the voice’s need for weight loss and, ultimately, perfection.

“My weight dropped from 8.5st to under 5st. My hair fell out, my skin cracked and bled, my bones ached and my periods stopped. I was also cycling between 13km (eight miles) and 24km (15 miles) a day to satisfy anorexia’s need for exercise. But I still didn’t believe I was thin enough. When I looked in the mirror, a mound of blubber stared back.

“My mum took me to the GP when my periods stopped, but they sent me home with a diet sheet, which said I must try to eat more.

“Eventually, I collapsed and ended up in hospital after having a minor heart attack while riding my bike. I was kept on a heart monitor for two days. I was sent home with another diet plan and the simple instruction: ‘eat’.

“Eventually, my GP realised I needed help. I was admitted to a psychiatric ward in a hospital in Middlesbrough, where I stayed for the next nine months.

“I was put on bed-rest for five months. My treatment involved cognitive therapy sessions once a week, and I gradually started to eat small amounts of food again. My recovery was slow. What really helped to pull me through was writing, and the consistent support from my family.

“I started to write about my experiences and realised that I wanted to recover so I could help others who were battling with the same problem. I gradually got better and went back home the day before my 16th birthday.

“I have had a couple of relapses, but five years on I am fully recovered, with few long-lasting effects. Although I have been diagnosed with the early stage of osteoporosis, my periods have come back, so I can have children.

“I still feel depressed at times but writing about it helps me get over it. I eat healthily and exercise for pleasure, not punishment. My book, A Stranger in the Family (Accent Press), has been published and I’m about to start a university degree. A few years ago I would never have imagined that.

“If you’re going through what I went through, you must talk about how you are feeling to your parents, friends or doctor, no matter how insignificant you believe your issue might be. It’s vital to express depressive feelings because things only get worse if you bottle them up, and this can lead to major health problems.

“Aim to live every day as though it is your last and not submit to anorexia. Try to defeat anorexia before it defeats you. Always remember that help is out there.”

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