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четверг, 2 марта 2017 г.

‘Anorexia destroyed me and my family’

For years Abby Baker starved herself to get ever thinner. As anorexia took hold, her loved ones could only watch as she struggled with her demons

Abby Baker, 18, is a student from Peterborough.
"The girl staring back at me from the mirror was painfully thin. Her ribs stuck out, her eyes had black rings under them, her teeth were rotten. But all I could see was that she was fat. Still fat.
That girl was me. And I'd been starving myself for so long, I was now in the grip of anorexia.

Abby Baker starved herself to get thin
It began when I moved from primary to secondary school. Until then, I'd never worried about my weight. I was 5ft 5in and a slim size 8. But that all changed one lunchtime when I was chatting with some friends on the school playing field. One of them commented on my "big, fat belly". I was mortified, and that one comment set off insecurities about my body that I'd never had before.
Initially, I didn't diet. I'd always done gymnastics so I started exercising more. I lost weight and the compliments started.
My weight dropped to 7st and I continued to exercise obsessively to stay a size 6. I weighed myself every day, sometimes two or three times. Every lost pound was a triumph. I became fixated by food, too. I'd eat a small portion of porridge with water for breakfast, then have soup I'd make out of celery and water for dinner. We didn't have family meals as my parents ate large lunches at work and would just have a sandwich in the evening. I'd make a fuss about cooking for my little sister, Elly, and I. No one noticed I wasn't actually eating.
Soon, I was going for days without food, surviving on nothing but green tea. If anyone asked if I was hungry, I'd say I'd already eaten. I covered my diminishing frame in layers and baggy tops.

Abby on holiday in 2008
A year after I started dieting, when I was 15, I weighed barely 6st and was a size 4, or US size zero. Everyone, even the girls at school, said I needed to eat. I was skin and bone. To stop them nagging, I started eating, only to vomit it up again in the loo. Being violently sick hurt, but it was the only way I could purge the calories.
When Elly said she knew what I was doing, I froze, then threatened to never speak to her again if she told our parents. She kept my secret.
My body was struggling, I was constantly getting swollen glands, and I looked sick. Some concerned friends took action. One day at school they gathered round me and said they knew I was anorexic. I denied it, even though my periods had stopped and my hair was falling out as my body battled to keep going on just a sachet of porridge a day. They said if I didn't come with them to the doctors, they'd tell my mum. I had no choice.
Standing in front of my doctor the next day, he said he didn't have the experience to diagnose me with anorexia, so I was referred to a mental health service for counselling. But I still hadn't told my parents. I couldn't handle how they might react, so I asked a close friend to tell them for me. Mum was devastated and as soon as I got home she started firing questions at me. I couldn't cope with it and stormed out of the room.
I'd achieved my goal - I was desperately thin. But I was also desperately unhappy. I hated myself and wanted to die. My weight plummeted to below 6st. Mum stopped working to look after me. I'd lose it daily, scream at her - a couple of times I even hit her. I was horrible, but I was too wrapped up in myself to realise.
In September 2008, I was admitted to a specialist hospital in Cambridge. I was forced to eat in front of the nurses and I felt so fat that it made me suicidal. Once, I managed to sneak in some painkillers from home, intending to end it all. Dying seemed easier than eating. But when it came to the crunch, I couldn't do it. Then, slowly, with the help of counsellors, I began to realise that I was killing myself already. That's when it clicked. I didn't want to die. I wanted to become a nurse and have a family. With their help I managed to stop seeing food as the enemy. Five months later, I was discharged.
These days I'm happy, I have great friends and I'm a healthy size 10. I think I'll always have body hang-ups, but I know starving myself isn't the answer."

Jacky Baker watched her daughter change
ABBY'S MUM
Jacky Baker, 47, is an insurance team leader.
"Watching Abby transform from my charismatic, daring and chatty daughter to a withdrawn and moody stranger was horrific.
She always insisted she was fine, so I put her moods down to teenage hormones. It never crossed my mind she had anorexia.
Looking back, Abby was obsessed with cooking, and loved making meals for herself and Elly. We never imagined Abby was surviving on watered-down soup, or eating and then making herself sick.
The illness made Abby very deceitful. To divert attention away from herself, she'd ask me if I thought Elly had an eating disorder. Maybe I should have looked more closely at Abby instead.
Finding out about Abby's anorexia left me shell-shocked. I felt like a failure because I hadn't spotted the signs, but I finally understood why she had changed.
After the diagnosis, Abby's weight continued to drop - it was heartbreaking to watch her deteriorate. The tension at mealtimes was unbearable - I would cook a tuna pasta bake or lean meat and vegetables and then we'd all slowly eat, trying not to count how many mouthfuls Abby was having.
I was under so much stress I was signed off from work for four months and used that time to look after her.
The slightest thing would provoke an angry reaction. She'd hit me, scream at me, and pull my hair. But I knew it was her illness causing her behaviour. My Abby was in there somewhere.
Everything was under strain - from the time we spent with Elly to my relationship with my husband, Paul. We didn't argue, but we would disagree about Abby's treatment.
When Abby was admitted to hospital, it was hell. We visited constantly, making sure she felt supported.
Luckily, the medical care was incredible. We all had family therapy and Abby had an outreach worker who helped us all through every step of her recovery. When we hit problems, we worked through them as a family.
That time was incredibly hard. I made sure I was always there for Abby, but seeing her so thin broke my heart. In private, there were a lot of tears.
Now Abby is doing well, but I'll spend the rest of my life worrying about a relapse. Sometimes she'll tell me to back off because I find myself constantly checking what she's eating.
Of course, I have two daughters, but luckily I'm sure Elly would never fall victim to anorexia too - I know she'd never want to experience what Abby has been through.
Abby and I are really close now. We often chat about what happened and she feels awful about the way she treated me. But I don't blame her at all. I blame anorexia."

Mia Heming was frightened Abby would die
ABBY'S BEST FRIEND
Mia Heming, 17, is an A-level student from Peterborough.
"I've known Abby since primary school. The only secret she ever kept from me was her anorexia.
She was 15 when I realised she had a problem. At first she denied it, but eventually she opened up.
Abby used anorexia as a way of escaping her problems. We went to different schools, but I know she felt there was some bitchiness at hers. Whenever I thought she was improving, she'd go through a rough patch.
I'd plead with her to put on weight and she'd promise to try, but by then she was too far gone to be able to turn things round on her own.
I was frightened she'd die. When I went on holiday last year, I spent the whole time worrying about her.
I wanted to tell her parents my fears, but I was scared that she would lose trust in me and I didn't want to leave her with no one to confide in. When they found out, it was such a relief.
I visited her in hospital, and when she was allowed home for meals I'd join her to make her feel more comfortable. We shared the first pizza she'd eaten in years. When she managed to eat her half of the margherita, we both felt a sense of elation.
Now I get annoyed when slim people moan about being fat. If they knew the devastation anorexia causes they would learn to accept their healthy bodies."

Elly Baker knew her big sister was secretly vomiting
ABBY'S LITTLE SISTER
Elly Baker, 13.
"I knew for a year before anyone else that Abby was making herself sick. At first she denied it, but then she started talking to me about it.
I was really worried about her but I was too frightened to tell my parents. She said she would hate me if I did.
I begged her to stop and told her she wasn't fat. Once I locked myself in the bathroom with her because I thought she wouldn't vomit in front of me, but she did. She'd force me to buy her food and then make herself sick after she'd eaten it. It was horrible.
I'm naturally slim anyway and would never diet, especially after what happened to Abby. Now I think weight doesn't matter, as long as you're healthy.
I used to lie awake at night, frightened that she was making herself so ill. At the time I never realised that she could be killing herself.
Abby always cooked me things she wished she could eat, like chips, or pasta with cheese, and would get annoyed when I couldn't finish the huge portions she gave me.
When my parents found out she was anorexic, I was so relieved. I hated keeping her secret. The worst time for me was during a family counselling session when they told Abby she would die if she didn't eat. That really scared me. And I missed her badly when she was in hospital.
I'm proud of Abby for being in recovery but I still feel protective over her. I might be her younger sister, but I'll always be the one looking out for her."

Paul Baker is proud of both his daughters
ABBY'S DAD
Paul Baker, 48, works in the catering industry.
"I still feel so guilty that I hadn't seen the signs. All teenage girls worry about their weight these days - I didn't think Abby was any different.
I couldn't believe how ill she'd got and visiting her in hospital, where she was surrounded by others in the same position, brought home how serious things were.
When Abby was discharged, she always turned to Jacky for support. I did feel excluded, but as long as she got better, that was all that mattered. Abby only turned to me when she wanted someone to lift the mood. It's hard to be light-hearted when your child's going through something so serious though.
I love both my daughters so much and I'm so proud of them and the strength they've both shown in dealing with this horrible illness. Now, all we can do is focus on the future together."
l For more help and information about eating disorders, contact Beat, the national eating disorders charity, on 0845 634 1414 or visit B-eat.co.uk. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is from February 21 to 27.
THE EXPERT'S VIEW
Mary George, spokesperson for Beat, the Eating Disorders Association, says: "For the 1.6 million people affected by eating disorders in the UK, there's an even greater number of family and friends who go through these illnesses with them. If you're one of them be patient and don't blame yourself. Mood swings, becoming withdrawn and hiding underneath baggy clothes are all signs that there may be an issue with food but it's likely that the person suffering will have gone to great lengths to cover up what they're doing. As Abby and her family have shown, eating disorders can be beaten. Keep talking and fight them together."

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