I thought weight was key to happiness – but mum helped saved me from anorexia – The Sun

NEW research has revealed that anorexia is on the rise with girls aged 12-16 most at risk.

Here, Harriet Knock, 22, and her mum Sarah open up about beating the eating disorder together.

“Standing in front of the mirror, I scrutinised my body. My collarbone wasn’t as prominent as the #thinspo images I looked at online, and my thigh gap wasn’t big enough.

“The truth was, I weighed just 6st 11lb – seriously underweight for my 5ft 5in frame. But anorexia had warped my image of myself and I vowed to be even stricter with what I ate, convinced the thinner I got, the happier I’d be.

“It was my mum who saved me from the grip of anorexia, and it’s only since becoming a mother myself that I can appreciate what she went through.

“I was 14 when I began restricting what I ate. Three years before, in 2008, I’d started secondary school. I’d always been a fussy eater, but I don’t remember feeling unhappy about how I looked. Aged 11, I was a size 8 and weighed around 8st.

“Compared to some of the other girls, I was very quiet and shy – they seemed so grown-up and mature to me. Over time, I began to feel deeply unhappy and as my self-esteem plummeted, I started to feel anxious, too. By my second year, Mum had to drive me to school because I couldn’t face getting on the school bus, and I’d sometimes feign illness to stay at home.

“Social media was taking off, and Tumblr, which is similar to Instagram, was popular with my fellow students. When I heard other girls talking about hashtags such as #thinspo and #thinspiration, I started looking at the images of extremely thin people associated with them.

“I know it can be hard for other people to understand how you can become convinced your weight holds the key to happiness, but that’s what I began to believe. I know now I was suffering from undiagnosed depression and anxiety, and those conditions fuelled my anorexia.

“I started by reducing my portions. Within a couple of months, I began to skip meals altogether. I’d deliberately be late in the morning so there wasn’t time to eat breakfast, or find an excuse not to sit with my friends at school for lunch. I still had dinner with my mum and brother James, now 30, but would conceal the fact I was eating less by passing it off as me being picky. I weighed myself several times a day. Every time I lost a pound I’d feel a buzz, but it was short-lived – almost immediately I’d feel the compulsion to lose another, and another.

“I avoided social situations where I’d have to eat, such as birthdays, and lied to Mum about having a big lunch at school so I could sometimes skip dinner. On days that I managed to eat nothing, I would feel proud.

“Within a year I’d lost 11/2st, dropping to 7st and a size 4. My hair was falling out in clumps in the shower, I was permanently cold and a couple of times I fainted in the bathroom – though thankfully I never hurt myself. I knew Mum was worried, but when she asked me if I was trying to lose weight because she could see I was getting slimmer, I’d insist I was fine and hide away in my bedroom.

“In the spring of 2012, when I was 15, Mum found a tape measure in my bedroom. I admitted I’d been measuring my thighs. She was shocked, and tried to make me see there was nothing wrong with my body, but I didn’t want to listen. Around that time, I also started self-harming. I was looking for a release for all the negative emotions inside me, another way to feel in control, and so I cut my legs.

“A few weeks later, a friend told Mum about my self-harming after she’d spotted my scars. When I got home from school that day, I could see how upset Mum was. I was scared, because she was now involved. She said she was going to get me expert support, and I realised I was going to lose the control.

“I started treatment in May 2012 under my local CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health service) team. I was weighed weekly, but I wasn’t allowed to see the figures. I had CBT, as well as therapy with Mum, and she was given advice by a dietician on what to feed me. I was also put on antidepressants. I knew it was pointless trying to resist, because Mum was determined. At first, I was in such a dark place I didn’t care if I got better or not. My therapist suggested other ways I could feel in control without having to self-harm, such as writing in a journal. I began to understand how all my mental health conditions were fuelling one another. Soon I was able to see how anorexia had isolated me and taken over my mind. I didn’t want that any longer. Gradually, I began to eat more and feel positive.

“I was discharged from CAMHS in 2014. Two years later, I met my fiancé Luke while working at a local bar. A few weeks into our relationship, I told him about my past. I had scars from self-harming and I wanted to explain before he saw them. He was shocked, but was reassured that I was in a much better place. His love for me has played a big part in my recovery and helping me value myself, plus having our children has been huge, too.

“I was fortunate my periods never stopped when I had anorexia, and I conceived my sons without any difficulty. It surprised me how much I loved watching my body change during pregnancy, although it became harder to accept myself after each one. I had stretch marks, went from a size 6 to a size 10, and my body was softer than it had ever been. I had to keep reminding myself that all the changes were worth it, as I didn’t want to hate my body again.

“I feel I’m fully recovered from anorexia now. I still suffer from anxiety, but even on my low days I know that now I’m a mum I can never risk my health again, and that motivates me. It’s painful to think about what Mum went through. I can’t feel guilty because it wasn’t my ‘fault’ I wasn’t well. The thought of my children starving and harming themselves like I did makes me feel sick.

“I owe so much to Mum. Even when I felt resentful about having treatment it was never directed at her, because in my heart I knew she was just trying to help me. Anorexia put a wall up between us for a while, and I’ll always be grateful she helped me to tear it down.”

Anorexia in numbers

1.6 million
The number of people in the UK known to suffer from an eating disorder.*

of eating disorder sufferers are female.**

of anorexia sufferers will die from it.*

*Anorexia & Bulimia Care

For help and support visit Beateatingdisorders.org.uk

‘When I went to work i was terrified she would take her own life’

SARAH Knock, 60, is a private carer and PA. She lives in Hartland, north Devon.

“I hit rock-bottom when a doctor told Harriet that if she didn’t gain weight, she’d have to be admitted to a residential unit miles from home. The idea of my daughter being taken away from me was horrific. As we sat in therapy together, her revelations about passing out from hunger and hating herself broke my heart. I kept asking myself: ‘Have I done something wrong? Am I to blame?’

“When Harriet hit her teens, I began to sense something wasn’t right. She became withdrawn and anxious about school, her social life was non-existent and she became increasingly fussy about what she ate. I took her to the GP, but they dismissed it as a ‘phase’ that would pass. I really wanted to believe that, but I just couldn’t shake off my worry. I could see she was losing weight, but when I tried to talk to her she’d shut down.

“I knew Harriet needed expert help when I found her tape measure and her friend left me a note about her self-harming. I was terrified and felt totally out of my depth as a parent. Hearing the words ‘anorexia’, ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ blindsided me. To realise she was so unwell was shocking.

“Harriet’s father and I separated when she was seven, so it was even tougher dealing with her condition on my own. While it was a relief to know experts were helping her, I had a role to play, too.

“I’d chop up food into bite-sized pieces, arranging it decoratively on a plate to try to tempt her to eat in a way I hadn’t done since she was a toddler. Every day I felt like I was walking a tightrope. I knew if Harriet felt pressured to eat, she could rebel against it,but I was also desperate for her to gain weight.

“I tried to stay relaxed and positive, encouraging her gently – even if she had just a few bites. But inside I was in turmoil and I’d lie awake at night. Knowing she’d been able to hide her anorexia and self-harm from me, I doubted myself and was worried I’d miss something else with more serious consequences. I agreed to home-school Harriet during her recovery because her anxiety was still crippling, but leaving her to study for her GCSEs while I went to work was very difficult – I was terrified she’d take her own life.

“I know anorexia can destroy relationships, but I was determined that wouldn’t happen to us. Harriet is not only my daughter, but my best friend, and I refused to let this awful disease come between us.

“We never argued and I was never angry with her, but I did feel overwhelmed with sadness. It was draining – my own life was put on hold with all my time and energy devoted to helping her.

“When I see Harriet today with my beautiful grandsons, I feel huge relief – not only that we made it through such a dark, scary time, but that she’s been able to forge a new life for herself and is so happy now. Sitting around the table with Harriet and her family enjoying a meal together, I feel incredibly proud of where she’s got to.”


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