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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 January, 2004, 00:35 GMT
'Recovering was about liking myself'
As the National Institute for Clinical Excellence launches guidelines on the treatment of eating disorders, BBC News Online talks to one woman about her experience.

Healthy breakfast
Ann now makes sure she eats healthily
Ann Cox remembers starting to over-eat when she was aged 11, something she believes was triggered by her anxiety about moving to secondary school.

"We had a walk-in pantry. I was an only child, so I had to be very deceitful, and I couldn't blame anyone else if food went missing.

"I can remember being terrified of being discovered by my parents. But I was compelled to do it. I was addicted."

Ann over-ate throughout her teens - but was never discovered because she was naturally thin.

"As an only child, I felt everyone knew everything about me.

"Over-eating was something I was addicted to. But it was also something that was my secret, something I had control over."


But after a bout of illness at college in her twenties, Ann developed anorexia nervosa.

"I had been in bed with tonsillitis, and after I'd recovered, I caught sight of myself in the mirror.

If you starve yourself for long enough, you either binge or die
Ann Cox
"I liked what I saw - I had a flat stomach. That became my focus.

"I wasn't nervous about classes any more. I wasn't nervous about fitting in.

"At the age of 23, I was four and a half stone."

Ann, from Hastings, says she was hospitalised many times, sometimes because her weight had plummeted to dangerously low levels, and sometimes because doctors felt she needed to be sectioned.

At 30, she developed bulimia: "If you starve yourself for long enough, you either binge or die.

"I would spend 60 at the supermarket, then go home and eat it all before making myself sick into a washing up bowl in my room.

"Over the next eight years, my life was hell. Bulimia was linked to so much disgust - sometimes I would have sick dripping off my elbow.

"By 38 I had lost my job and I had withdrawn from my friends.

'It was about liking myself'

"Eventually I asked to go to a psychiatric hospital in Brighton. I thought that they would know what to do."

The hospital helped her eat, but Ann says doctors failed to address her underlying psychological problems.

One day, she escaped from the hospital, planning to jump in front of a train - but two policemen at the station prevented her from killing herself.

"It was then that I realised recovery was about feeling safe within myself and liking myself.

"I realised that I had to do the work."

Now 53, Ann has been free of her eating disorder for 13 years. She now counsels people who are affected.

"I recognised that an eating disorder is symptomatic of a greater problem. It's like alcoholism - you've got to address the addiction to alcohol itself as well as why people are drinking.

"I set up a counselling service to address both the eating disorder and the underlying problem.

"The new NICE guidelines should be embraced. They will help people feel less isolated."

Ann Cox's counselling service - Eating Disorders and Recovery via Self-Help - can be contacted on (01424) 426880.

Anorexia guidelines target teens
28 Jan 04  |  Health
Anorexia 'overlooked in boys'
29 Aug 03  |  Health

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