I wanted to look good at a wedding, but my crash diet came with a devastating cost…
By Amy Laidlaw, 34, living in Malaga, Spain
As a stranger wrapped swathes of pink satin around my hips, I squirmed with discomfort.
“Don’t you like the dress, Amy?” Lourdes, my step-brother Dany’s wife-to-be asked.
I had been over the moon when they asked me to be their bridesmaid, just a few weeks before.
But now the reality had hit me. I would be standing there in front of a room of strangers, in a stupid dress I really hated.
All eyes would be on me. At 14 it was my worst nightmare. I just wanted to disappear.
“It’s okay,” I grimaced, turning a brave twirl.
I hadn’t felt comfortable in my body since puberty. I’d been wearing a bra since the age of 11, and my first period came just a few months later.
None of my friends were as developed as me, so I felt like an outsider.
When my breasts first started growing, I even resorted wearing a tight belt strapped around my chest to try to flatten them down.
And now, I’d be posing in a silky, curve hugging dress with every lump and bump showing.
It was too much to bear.
“Mum, I want to start a diet,” I announced one evening at home.
“Really Amy? I don’t think you need to,” my mum, Susanne, replied.
At 9st 12lbs, I wasn’t exactly fat for my 5ft 6in frame. I could only see my flaws though.
“I just want to look my best for the wedding,” I explained.
After a bit of persistence, I persuaded my mum that it would be good for the whole family to adopt a healthier lifestyle in the run up to the big day.
So she stocked up the cupboards with weight loss shakes instead of our favourite unhealthy snacks.
It wasn’t long before my mum and step-dad had given up on our grand diet plans though.
I was the only one sticking to the shakes.
Over the next few weeks I relished my jeans fitting just a little bit looser.
As I ran my hand over my belly, I was sure my tummy was getting flatter and flatter too. It felt great.
But when I remembered the upcoming wedding, and that hideous pink dress, my smile faded.
What if I look awful and let everyone down? I thought.
With just weeks to go, it was time to step up my weight loss.
That’s when I found an old diet book of my mum’s from the 1980s, just lying around on a bookshelf at home.
It became my bible. I devoured the tips about filling up on high fibre food to stave off hunger.
The author had recommended porridge, so I decided to cut out my normal meals and fill up on oats instead.
I didn’t see it as a crash diet. I told myself it was a healthier way of living.
By the day of the wedding, my plan had worked. I’d lost two stone and I finally felt ready to slip into that awful dress.
“You look beautiful, Amy,” my mum said, brushing my long blonde hair down my back.
I blushed. I still didn’t feel beautiful, but at least I was slimmer.
But that day, the compliments kept coming and I kept brushing them off.
I don’t deserve that, a little voice nagged away in my head whenever a guest said something nice.
So, after the wedding I decided to carry on with my diet. Just a few more pounds off wouldn’t hurt.
Soon I was counting calories, never exceeding the 1,500 recommended in mum’s old diet book.
And if I felt hungry, I’d swig down some diet coke to fill myself up.
I felt great, but my mum was worried.
“You need to stop losing weight, it’s going too far,” she said one day. “You’re disappearing in front of me.”
“Perhaps you’re right. I promise I’ll stop,” I replied.
I knew I wasn’t going to stop though, and in secret I carried on cutting out calories wherever I could.
And every single day I’d don my leggings and headband to follow along with a Jane Fonda high energy aerobics VHS tape. Every single calorie counted.
It was an obsession, I even did the workout on the day of my grandad’s funeral while the rest of the family were at the pub down the road for the wake.
I didn’t like upsetting my mum, but I was hooked on the buzz of seeing the pounds carry on dropping from my skinny frame.
The scales sank lower, and soon I was a tiny 6st 10lbs.
Somehow, I got through the next few years, and qualified to study for a psychology degree at the Southampton Solent university.
I told myself this was my chance to focus on my future, instead of losing weight. But, with the stress of exams and assignments, the pressure became too much.
I developed bulimia as a release when things got on top of me. In the end, I was forced to admit defeat. I was physically too weak to drag myself into class.
So, I dropped out of university, and packed up for Spain where my mum was living. I got an office job and, under the watchful eye of my mother, I settled down.
For the first time in years I was taking care of myself, eating regular meals and socialising instead of exercising obsessively.
I even fell in love, but when that relationship ended and my father died I was plunged back into a deeper depression than ever before.
Soon I was back to my self-destructive old ways, surviving on diet coke and tiny portions of low fat foods. My weight plummeted to just 4st 3lbs.
My mum became my carer, pushing me to go to the doctors for anti-depressants when I felt too low to see the point in getting help.
A lot of the time I couldn’t get out because I didn’t have the strength to climb the slope onto the street in Mijas, the village where we lived.
I was on so much medication that I was like a zombie. But still, I couldn’t force myself to eat.
In desperation, I even contacted the Swiss assisted suicide clinic Dignitas after several attempts to take an overdose at home failed.
They couldn’t help me though, as I didn’t have a terminal illness.
My mum was horrified when I confessed that I was so determined to end my life.
“I don’t want to be a burden on you, Mum,” I sobbed.
“I’m not going to help you kill yourself, I want you to get better,” she replied.
“I can’t though,” I said. “I’ll never get better.” I had completely given up on myself.
My mum refused to give up on me though. She started making plans to help me, deciding that doctors back in England would have the right expertise.
In June 2009 I was taken to a psychiatrist, to assess my mental state.
“We’ll be sectioning you under the Mental Health Act,” he said.
I was sent to Woodhaven Hospital, a mental health unit near Southampton. But there I was so frail that my pelvis cracked, just through everyday wear and wear.
For the next six months I recovered from the break in Southampton General Hospital and a specialist bone unit in Oxford.
I had surgery on my pelvis to secure it with a metal plate, but the break became infected. I was pumped with drugs but, too weak to fight the infection, I was in danger of losing my life.
Doctors even discussed amputating my leg. In my depressed state, I couldn’t bring myself to care.
When I was well enough, in May 2010 I was transferred to the Capio Nightingale Hospital in London for specialist anorexia treatment.
I was weighed on admission, tipping the scales at just 4st 11lbs.
So immediately, I was put on a strict diet of six meals a day, crammed with thousands of calories.
Carbonara, four cheese pizzas, and creamy desserts were regularly on the menu.
We were given half an hour to finish the meal, and there were always nurses on hand to make sure we finished every last mouthful.
At first I tried to refuse, instead just pushing the food around my plate.
“I didn’t ask for this food,” I’d insist, panic rising in my stomach as I realised I’d have to consume the whole lot.
“You need it to get better,” the nurses would say, pushing the plate back towards me.
But I soon realised that resistance was useless. I would never be allowed to go home, unless I played by the rules.
When I wasn’t eating, I was pushed in a wheelchair between eight hours of therapy classes every day. I wasn’t even allowed to walk, to allow my body to savour every single calorie I ate.
And, bit by bit, the treatment began to work.
The dark fog of depression gradually faded, and I began to imagine that I could have a future.
For the first time I allowed myself to daydream. I drifted away to relaxing in the sunshine back in Spain, I imagined falling in love again, and most of all I looked forward to being reunited with my mum.
That gave me the motivation I needed to fight against anorexia, instead of letting the disease rule me.
After ten months I was released from the Capio Nightingale, and sessions at a day patient unit helped me to prepare for a normal life again.
In group therapy we were encouraged to relax around food, and eat in a regular routine.
We would even go through restaurant menus, imagining what we would pick if we were ever invited out for dinner.
I managed to maintain my target weight of 8st 5lbs, putting me in the healthy BMI bracket for my height.
And eventually, I was released from the mental health section and allowed to fly back to Spain with my mum.
Now, I’ve managed to keep the weight on, and I’m determined to never fall into the trap of anorexia again.
For the first time as an adult, I’m happy and healthy.
The eating disorder left me with osteoporosis and a metal plate in my hip, but thankfully that’s the only physical reminder of my years of torment.
My periods have even come back, so it’s possible I’ll be able to have a child one day too.
I look back on those 15 years of anorexic hell with horror. I can’t believe I wasted so much of my life just so I could be a slim bridesmaid.