I'm living proof that you can beat anorexia: Girl who weighed 2st 12lb tells how she battled back to health
Emma developed eating disorder when she was 14Only realised she was ill after she collapsed in a roadHas now set up a foundation to help others with the condition
10:14 GMT, 20 September 2012
Weighing less than three stone, Emma O’Neil could not even lie down on a bed without bruising her fragile skin.
Her body ravaged by anorexia, the private schoolgirl was repeatedly told by her doctors that hers was the worst case they had ever seen.
But Emma, then 14, took their warnings as a badge of honour, proud to be seen as the ‘best anorexic’.
Recovery: Emma, 22, is now healthy and looking forward to the future eight years after she started to suffer from anorexia. Pictured, right, still painfully thin aged 20
Now, after an eight-year recovery,
Emma has decided to release pictures of herself at her thinnest in a bid
to show other teens just how damaging an obsession with dieting can be.
‘At the time, I didn’t realise how ill I was. I didn’t realise what I was doing to myself and my family,’ said Emma, now 22.
‘I was so thin that I couldn’t even
sleep on a normal hospital bed. My bones were like razor blades jutting
out and I was left bruised.
‘Even an airbed was too rough for me, so they had to wrap me in my dressing gown and sheepskin blankets.’
Emma has set up a foundation with two friends, to help anorexics and their families
When she turned 14, Emma weighed seven stone and played competitive sport at her private school in Glasgow.
But her weight quickly dropped after she developed an obsession with seeing how much she could lose.
Within six months, it had plummeted to
just over five stone and she was admitted to Gartnavel hospital in
Glasgow, the first of many times she would stay at the hospital
throughout her teens.
At her worst, she weighed a skeletal
2st 12lb. ‘I can’t even really remember how it started,’ said Emma, now a
bar manager. ‘It certainly wasn’t a vanity thing, as I was a very
sporty teenager and wasn’t chubby at all.
‘I have a very addictive personality
and I remember trying to see how thin I could get.’
Emma began making
herself sick but after she was caught by her mother she decided to
starve herself instead.
Her family begged her to eat but she
refused and had to be removed from school and admitted to hospital,
where she refused to be treated, pulling out feeding tubes. On one
occasion it took four nurses to hold her down to force-feed her.
years later, on a shopping trip with her father, Emma began to realise
the harm she was doing to herself. At one point, she felt so weak he had
to carry her up a flight of stairs. She later collapsed crossing a road
and only narrowly avoided being hit by a car.
Emma was so thin at one point that even lying on a hospital bed left her bruised
‘It was only then that I thought, “Maybe I’m not so well”, she said.
‘It wasn’t like a magic switch
suddenly turned on though. It was still a long and difficult journey.
Anorexia was like a prison that I couldn’t escape from.
‘I could see the devastating effect
this was having on my parents and I didn’t know how to help them, but I
thought, “I can’t lose my family, they mean everything to me”.’
It has taken Emma a further six years
to come to terms with looking healthy. She refuses to weigh herself as
part of her treatment, but thinks she is now about eight stone.
She has now set up a support group with two friends who also had anorexia.
The Only Way Is Up Foundation aims to
visit hospitals to advise doctors and nurses on the best tactics they
can use to get anorexics to eat, while providing help to family members.
‘Only in the last year have I been at
semi-peace with myself. I have realised the most important things are
having a baby, having a career and having a healthy body to carry me
through life,’ Emma added.
‘Some of my friends I was in hospital with, who weren’t as ill as I was, have died. I’m so lucky to be here.
‘I want to take something positive from this horrible experience, and do all I can to help other people who are suffering.’