I battled eating disorders in secret for years – NHS wait times are so long
A woman who battled eating disorders in private for nine years has revealed how she was too scared to get help from the NHS because of long wait times.
Emma Dransfield, 29, from Leeds, first started struggling with disordered eating in 2012 when she started university.
The graphic designer gained three stone in less than a year following a series of binge-eating episodes.
As she desperately tried to regain control, Emma sadly then developed bulimia and would make herself sick several times a day.
Although she battled disordered eating and obsessive exercise for the best part of a decade, Emma says she brushed off concern from friends and family and once opened up to an ‘unsupportive’ ex-boyfriend.
Emma Dransfield pictured during the height of her eating disorder. Over the course of her nine year battle with anorexia and bulimia, Emma would binge and purge or limit herself to 400 calories a day
She explained: ‘When I was 18, I started gaining weight and felt like I couldn’t stop eating.
‘This then turned into bulimia because, to me, it felt like the only solution to stop binge eating and gaining weight.
‘The worst times during my eating disorder were early on. I was binging and purging up to nine times a day. I had low self-esteem and depression.’
Before she would eat anything, Emma had to weigh it first – and would only consume it if it was less than the recommended serving suggestion.
She continued: ‘I remember when I was at uni I wrote down meal plans and I would put chewing gum as a snack.
‘I found it hard to accept myself and see my worth. I was abusing my body through exercise, trying to shrink it as much as I could because I thought if I lose a couple of more pounds I would be happy, but I never was.’
Although friends and family expressed concern about her weight, Emma admits she was too ashamed to open up about the extent of her disordered eating.
Describing how she found her eating disorder ’embarrassing’, she added: ‘My partner who I was with at the time found it frustrating when I wouldn’t want to eat at certain places or eat certain things.
‘It put a lot on the relationship as when I found the courage to open up to him about my eating disorder as he wasn’t supportive.’
Emma pictured running a marathon in 2018 as a way to keep her weight down. Around this time, Emma also said she would weigh everything she ate
Emma Dransfield plummeted to eight stone while battling her eating disorders from 2012 to 2021
Pictured: Emma shortly after she started battling disordered eating when she was 18 years old in 2012
WHAT IS ANOREXIA?
Anorexia is an eating disorder and a mental health condition.
People diagnosed with it try to keep their weight as low as possible by eating little or excessive exercise.
Men and women can develop the illness, however it typically starts in the mid-teens.
Those with anorexia can have a distorted image of their bodies, thinking they’re fat when in fact they are severely underweight.
Causes of the condition are unknown, but those with it have either low self-esteem, have a family history of eating disorders or feel pressured from society or place of work.
Long term health complications can include muscle and bone problems, loss of sex drive, kidney or bowel problems or having a weakened immune system.
Treatment for anorexia can include cognitive behavioural therapy.
At her worst, Emma would eat as little as 400 calories a day – causing her weight to plummet to just eight stone.
As a result, she suffered from amenorrhea – the absence of menstrual bleeding – and severe stomach ulcers.
But despite these alarming side effects, Emma still felt as though she couldn’t confide in a doctor.
She said: ‘I didn’t seek any help as it was too expensive and the waiting list on the NHS was too long.’
Although wait times differ from area-to-area, the NHS revealed last year that it is now treating a record number of young people for eating disorders.
There were 207 under-19s in England waiting for ‘urgent’ care for conditions such as bulimia and anorexia by the end of June. It is the highest number since NHS records began in 2016 and more than triple the amount at the same time in 2021.
On top of this, Emma then developed orthorexia, an eating disorder that is characterised by the obsession with only eating foods that are considered ‘healthy’, and became obsessed with exercise.
She ran a marathon in 2018 as a way to keep her weight down, and was doing as many as 30,000 steps everyday in 2020.
However in 2021, Emma started to regain control over her life when she moved into her first home of her own.
In the past two years, she has gained three stone and is feeling more comfortable in her own skin after discovering her ‘new love’ of strength-building exercises.
Emma (pictured) last year feels like she ‘has her life back’ after breaking free of her disordered eating
Emma Dransfield now boast 12,000 Instagram followers and shares her day-to-day life in recovery
Discussing her recovery, Emma said: ‘My advice to someone going through the same thing would be that recovery isn’t linear. Some days you will feel like you’ve gone back to your old ways and you’re never going to recover but you will.’
Record numbers of children and young people are waiting for treatment for eating disorders. There were 207 under-19s in England waiting for ‘urgent’ care for conditions including bulimia and anorexia by the end of June – the highest number since records began in 2016 and more than triple the amount at the same time last year (shown)
Emma explained: ‘It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve done but also the best thing.
‘I did everything alone which I think was harder than seeking professional help.
‘I’ve read books on binge eating and bulimia and also turned to social media recovery accounts and therapists for tips and support.
‘Social media can have a bad reputation but the community on there for eating disorder recovery is so motivating.’
Emma has since learned to enjoy food again after breaking free of her eating disorder. She now eats between 2500 and 3000 calories per day, and has found a “new love” for strength-building exercises
Emma also developed orthorexia, an eating disorder that is characterised by the obsession with only eating foods that are considered “healthy”, and became obsessed with exercise
Emma now feels happier than ever after years of struggling to ‘see her worth’ beyond her weight
As well as regaining her menstrual cycle, Emma has gone from a UK six size to between a 10 to 12.
Describing how she has ‘got her life back’, Emma continued: ‘Having an eating disorder strips you of so much,’ Emma said.
‘I had social anxiety. I didn’t like going out for meals or events. I turned down so many fun things because I feared not being able to exercise or what food there would be.
‘I now have the freedom to say yes to events and meet friends without having to think about it. I can go out for food and order what I truly want without the fear of calories.
Emma says she had to teach herself to eat without feeling any guilt. Pictured: Emma recently enjoying a meal with a friend
Left: At her worst, Emma would obsessively walk 30,000 steps a day to maintain her size six frame. Right: Emma says she now sees exercise as a way to grow rather than shrink
Left: Emma pictured on holiday while still in the grips of her eating disorder. Right: Emma pictured enjoying a meal out with friends
‘Once you find that freedom from your eating disorder, the feeling is unmatched.’
What’s more, Emma has also shared her recovery on her Instagram account – which now boasts over 12,000 followers.
She added: ‘My advice to someone going through the same thing would be that recovery isn’t linear.
‘Some days you will feel like you’ve gone back to your old ways and you’re never going to recover but you will.
Emma said: ‘I now have the freedom to say yes to events and meet friends without having to think about it. I can go out for food and order what I truly want without the fear of calories.’
Emma pictured at a festival last month. She added: ‘I want to keep sharing my journey on Instagram because I know how many others it helps.’
‘I spent so many days feeling like I was making no progress and my eating disorder was still ruling my life but these bad days only bring you back stronger than before.
‘I want to keep sharing my journey on Instagram because I know how many others it helps.
‘I’ll also continue training and improving my performance in the gym because it’s something I love doing and I gain so much from it, not just physically but mentally as well. I train to see what my body can do and not because I wanted to shrink it.’
If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s health, you can contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, on 0808 801 0677 or beateatingdisorders.org.uk