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 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 10:39 GMT
'I wanted to lose weight - and ended up four stone 10 oz'
Anna at age 25 when she was six stone four oz
Each January many Britons vow to diet and detox. Many of the "rules" set by these slimmers sound scarily familiar to recovered anorexic Anna Paterson.

Popular diets reflect the kind of rules I used to set myself. Just as my eating disorder meant I cut one thing out and stuck by that obsessively, these diets do that with whole food groups.

Anna now runs an advice website [see Internet links on right]
While many people in the UK have anorexia, vast numbers more have disordered eating patterns. They go from a festive binge to a detox diet to eating normally. We seem to have picked up the message that it's fine to cut out huge parts of our diet.

I know from bitter experience that it's not fine at all. I wasn't diagnosed as anorexic until 21, but symptoms had been noticed when I was 13.

It was then that I'd decided to eat nothing with any sugar or fat in it. I'd never really paid that much attention to diets before then, but knew the basic rule to be that anything that tasted nice was bad. I got to the point where I was living on one apple a day.

Geri as a buxom Spice Girl and as a slender solo artist
Such transformations trigger a rush on fad diets
What worries me about the New Year diet rush is that those likely to develop eating disorders pick up snippets of information and take it too far.

As anorexics tend to be perfectionists, they want to do their diet absolutely right. If they hear fat is bad for instance, they will not touch anything with fat in it - even something with the tiniest amount of fat will be cut out.

That is exactly what I did. I collected diets and recipes from magazines just in case there was more slimming information I could use.

Mixed messages

As a child, I'd been mentally abused by my grandmother and gradually my self-esteem dropped. I wanted to do something that would get me loved. As she'd constantly told me I was fat and no one loved me, I thought losing weight would do it.

By the time I was 17, I didn't believe I deserved to eat food like other people and I stopped eating almost everything.

Anorexic girl
Sufferers are getting younger and younger
Like most people with an eating disorder, I covered it up. It wasn't until about five months later that people started to mention my dramatic weight-loss.

I got very mixed messages. Some teachers were very concerned that I was so thin. Some girls at school said I was matchstick thin, while others said things like "you're so lucky you can wear jeans like that". That was all I needed to think losing weight was good.

I didn't get treatment until I was 21 and I spent the next nine years in and out of hospital. My weight went down to four stone 10 oz [25.7 kg], at which point I was told I had two hours to live without treatment.

Rebuilding confidence

I lost those years to anorexia. I only saw healthcare professionals and my parents - I had withdrawn so totally that I couldn't even bring myself to pick up the phone or to go into a shop. I couldn't cope with talking to people, with people looking at me.

I have a pretty healthy relationship with food now

Once I started to put on weight, my confidence came back. That just proves to me that the body needs a certain amount of weight to function properly.

It was when I met my fiancé that I started to recover. He showed me that I wasn't this terrible person who didn't deserve to live. And very, very slowly - my fear of eating had become so strong that I had to battle it every day - I stopped counting calories.

GQ's Kate Winslet photoshoot
The GQ Photoshop diet that digitally trimmed Kate Winslet's curves
Four years on, I think I have a pretty healthy relationship with food now - it doesn't take any of my time the way it used to.

Like most women, when I see a slim, glamorous star I wonder if I should lose a bit. And if I'm nervous about something - a looming deadline, for instance - I think I feel fat. When I was anorexic I addressed these feelings by controlling my eating, now I address the problem itself.

Worries about my body just don't affect me like they used to. Five minutes later I'll be thinking about something else; whereas before that thought would have lasted a week.

Got something to say about this story? Send us your comments, using the form below:

For those below who've written about their own difficulties with food, and eating disorders in particular, I want to give some encouragement. It IS possible to recover from eating disorder - not easy but possible. My organisation works with sufferers, and we have been privileged to see so many recover fully. For more information see our website:

Kate Middleton, UK

I have always been a "big" girl standing at 5'10 and my weight ranges from 65-84kg. This story has opened my eyes. I don't think I have an eating disorder but I do know that I'm totally consumed by food - what I eat, if I eat, when I eat - and I've been like this since I was 10 (now 19). My health is pretty bad, constantly sick, cold, digestion problems, missing periods. Maybe I'm deluding myself but this made me think possibly I have a problem.
Mel, Australia

An 8-year-old in my daughter's class told her the other day that she was on a diet - she's tiny. I tell my daughters that as long as they're active and eat sensibly most of the time they'll be fine. If they feel comfortable with themselves nothing else matters.
Vicky Cossins, UK

My 14 yr old son is just as conscious of his weight now as any teenage girl.
Kate, Wales

As hard as it is for me to admit it, I believe I have a problem. 2-3 times a week I won't eat anything and I take laxatives when I do eat so it won't stay in my system. If I go out at the weekend, I won't eat anything so I can have a "flat" stomach that night. I exercise a lot and won't eat before I go in case I look fatter than other people there. I'm 5ft 5 and weigh just over 7 stone, but I believe I am fat, look fat and at nights I punch my stomach so it won't sit up. I'm depressed most of the time and am ruining my relationship with my family, my boyfriend and my friends. I urge anyone who is thinking of a diet to think again - it can take over and ruin your life.
Michelle, UK

I ruined 5 years of my life when I should have been blossoming. The progress from successful dieter to full-blown anorexia was shockingly fast - less than 6 months. It was only by enormous personal endeavour, ultimately ending in self-admittance to a mental institution, that I got out of this, and along the way caused great heartache to my friends and family. I would advise anyone (woman or man) following a diet without wavering for more than 2 weeks to think carefully about the consequences. I shall never forget the first time I replied yes to being offered a Polo mint when previously I would have declined. It was fantastic to be free again.
Eleanor Jones, UK

My wife was anorexic when we got together. Within two months she was hospitalised after having got so low as to sleep on the toilet every night having taken 40 laxatives. Ten years on, she is a healthy 31 year old having given me two beautiful children. This disease has nothing to do with weight. It took my wife 5 years to admit to herself what the problem was and to deal with her feelings associated with that problem. Overcoming this disease is hard, and anyone that does so has my utmost respect, as this involves heartrending moments and a lot of tears.
Stuart, UK

I moved to France last year and am speechless by what I see here. I am SURROUNDED by anorexic and/or bulimic girls who are slowly killing themselves. These are beautiful, smart, great girls who clearly cannot see the qualities in themselves they see in others. There is so much emphasis here on weight - slimming articles constantly on the front pages of magazines, slimming pills by the till in every pharmacy and no decent clothes larger than a small size 12. Where does this leave normal healthy women who enjoy food and wine and don't have anything to prove?
Lydia, France (ex UK)

I don't ever think I'll "recover" from anorexia. Apart from the body image, it's a control issue too. My weight is pretty stable now, but dieting is a total no-no, as I'll be living on a tin of low-cal soup a day before I know it. I look at pictures of Jennifer Aniston and Kylie, and it triggers me into thinking "I know I can be that thin" and I have to really fight not to be sucked into it again. I'm a 30 year old lawyer, with loving relationships, independence, and generally happy and privileged lifestyle. The fact that I'm constantly on the edge of hospitalising myself because I think I'm fat is my vice, like drugs are for others.
Carrie, UK

Following Jennifer Aniston's admission that she had an eating disorder, I'm convinced that there are very real issues of control and esteem hiding behind celebrity diets, which in essence are glamorised manifestoes for eating disorders. For all female stars' apparent success and power, they still feel they must exert control over their own bodies. Sadly for us all, few women in the spotlight dare to disobey the rule of Belsen Chic.
Ceardha, Northern Ireland

Seen the photos in TOPSHOP's windows? They feature a really skinny girl. I'm used to seeing magazines full of slim girls but this one is way too thin. Looks like a hark back to the early 1990's heroine chic crossed with a Belsen victim. This is not sending out a positive message to young girls.
Nadia, UK

My friends and I want to be able to eat, and if we could eat without gaining weight we would as we all love our food. It makes me scream when newspapers describe women 'a curvy size 10' or 'healthy size 8'. At 15 I was the one of thinnest in my school at size 8 and that was the size everyone wanted. Now I'm 17, everyone aspires to size 6.
Zoe, UK

I watched a scary documentary called Skinny Women and saw how girls as young as eight try to keep fit and diet. We all want to conform to some extent to society's creme de la creme, but it's instilled into us by advertising from a very early age. I believe advertising for children is completely banned in one Scandinavian country, so why not here?
Gary, UK

A big problem is clothes shops. I'm a perfectly healthy weight (BMI 20.5) but at 5ft8 and 9.5st, I am too "big" for size 14 in many trendy clothes shops.
Helen, UK

The problem I have with my weight is clothes: they don't fit! I'm a typical pear shape and have a size ten waist and size sixteen thighs. A lot of my friends have a similar problem. When will manufacturers learn that jeans, trousers, etc need to go in at the waist? We're adult females, not children.
Carolyn, UK

Only now at 39 am I beginning to feel more comfortable with food - I remain under weight but healthy. I have a daughter of 11 and have banned scales. I'm trying to teach her to love good food so she can enjoy her meals and stay in shape without starving herself. I wasted many years in fear of getting fat and being depressed about it. Having children has changed me a lot, I know now I have to keep healthy to look after my family.
Zoe, Australia

Don't get too hung up on BMI. I have a body fat percentage of 11.5% and am quite fit due to lots of swimming & playing waterpolo. My BMI comes out at bordering on overweight, which is nonsense. If you think you're overweight speak to your GP or get the Chest Heart Stroke Association to do a health & fitness examination (£25).
Peter Havenaar, Northern Ireland

I maintain a healthy diet however I do feel guilty every time I eat something that is classed as "junk food". I long for the day when I can eat something with fat in and not worry about it afterwards.
Laura, UK

I know that I like the way the person staring back at me in the mirror looks, despite the fact that I buy clothes in a size 14 or 16. I've learnt no matter how much I diet or exercise, my body doesn't want to be three sizes smaller - it just wasn't built like that. Ribs aren't made for sticking out, and who wants to see the bones in my arms and legs?
Jennifer, Netherlands, ex UK

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See also:

09 Jan 03 | Entertainment
23 Jul 02 | Health
21 Jan 03 | UK
11 Jun 02 | Health
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