I never thought my quest for my dream body would leave me like a gummy granny…
By Beth Piddington, 29, from Cradley Heath, West Midlands
Applying a final coat of mascara and a slick of lip gloss, Beth Piddington, smiles at her reflection in the mirror.
Smoothing her slinky size 8 outfit over her slim nine stone frame, she looks good.
But what people don’t know is that Beth’s dream body hides a dark secret. A battle with bulimia as a teenager has left Beth, 29, with the body of a granny.
Years of abusing laxatives and purging have left her toothless, incontinent and with fertility issues.
Beth, unemployed, from Cradley Heath, West Midlands says: “What started as trying to lose a few pounds soon became a dangerous obsession.
“I just wanted to fit in as a teenager but my pursuit of the perfect body became like an addiction.
“Now, I’ve been left like this. I feel so old. I’ve got no teeth and I can’t control my bowels and bladder properly.
“I have to wear dentures and pads like a pensioner. I’ve wasted the best years of my life to an eating disorder. It’s just not worth the risk.”
Beth’s battle with bulimia started at school. Aged 13 she was already a size 16 and when cruel classmates dubbed her the ‘Honey Monster’ it was enough to set Beth on the path to bulimia.
She remembers: “I used to spend my school dinner money at the chip shop.
“But while my friends seemed to be able to eat whatever they wanted and stay the same size, I only had to look at a chip to put on weight.”
As she got bigger Beth became a target for school bullies who used to tease her.
She says: “They made fun of me for being fat and used to force me to eat playing cards at break times. The worst thing was, the bullies were twice my size!”
Unhappy at school, Beth began to play truant and when she acted up at home and started taking her anger out on her family, she was put into foster care aged 14.
“It wasn’t my family’s fault,” Beth says. “They just couldn’t cope with my behaviour. Between the ages of 14 and 16 I was in 32 different foster homes.
“It was really unstable but it meant I could be secretive with my eating habits. I was never in one place long enough for anyone to work out what I was and wasn’t eating.”
Desperately self-conscious and longing to fit in, Beth stopped eating at 15.
She explains: “My life was so manic. I was flitting between foster homes and being bullied at school. My weight was the only thing I could control.
“But starving myself didn’t stop me craving my favourite junk foods. That’s when I discovered bingeing.”
Beth would consume 4,000 calories in one sitting, bingeing on junk food like chocolate, cakes and crisps – and then simply make herself sick.
She says: “I hated being sick but I just put my fingers down my throat and got on with it. Eventually, after about a year, my stomach muscles would automatically contract and I would bring everything back up without even trying.
“Bingeing made me feel better. I felt full but as soon as the food hit my stomach I’d feel guilty. But then I simply made myself sick. It seemed like the perfect solution.
“I remember getting my school uniform in a size 16 in September, but by the December I was a size 8. It worked.”
It wasn’t long before Beth discovered laxatives. She had been learning about bulimia in a PSHE lesson at school but instead of hearing the dangers, Beth only learned tips.
She remembers: “I was popping 13 or 14 laxatives a day at my worst. I was on the toilet all the time and the painful stomach cramps were awful but I didn’t care.
“Finally, I had the slim, sexy body I’d dreamed of. I could wear the cool clothes my mates were kitted out in and I was getting attention from boys for the first time.
“Even when I was abusing laxatives, I didn’t stop purging. I just got clever about it. I’d run the taps in the bathroom so no one could hear me being sick or turn the music up in my bedroom if I was throwing up in my wastepaper bin.
“The other girls at school made sure they had their books and pencil cases in their school bag. I always checked I’d packed my toothpaste and mouthwash.”
But Beth’s quest for the dream body became a dangerous obsession.
She says: “It was like an addiction and like an addict, I needed my fix. I couldn’t break the habit.”
By the time she reached 19, Beth’s bulimia had developed into anorexia and she was surviving on just a slice of apple a day.
“It was either that or a blob of tomato ketchup or a spoonful of sugar,” she says. “It’s ridiculous to think I believed that was enough to sustain me but I was obsessed.
“Besides, I’d left home by them – I couldn’t afford to buy junk food to binge on.
“I had the skinny figure I wanted but I was so malnourished I got spots and my hair became dry, thin and limp.
“I couldn’t even go out and flaunt my body because by then I was struggling to control my bowels after taking so many laxatives.”
Beth’s sister, Ruth Piddington, 27, became worried when she saw Beth collapse with exhaustion at the gym and told their mum, Julie Piddington, 54.
Julie contacted social services who demanded that Beth get hospital treatment.
Beth says: “All these people turned up at my house – a doctor, social worker, psychiatrist and mental health worker – I didn’t know what was going on.
“I was just under six stone and they explained that I was to either come willingly with them to hospital or they’d take the decision out of my hands and section me.
“I didn’t have much choice, so I was admitted to Sandwell Hospital in West Bromwich. It was the worst experience of my life.
“I was in a ward with lots of other people suffering with mental health conditions – schizophrenia, psychosis, depression – I felt so out of place.
“I was terrified but it was the wake-up call I needed. When a doctor sat down and told me that unless I started eating my body was going to shut down and I would die, I sat up and took notice.
“It’s one thing hearing your family and friends telling you they’re worried about you but when a medical professional tells you you’re going to die, it’s really powerful.
“That’s when I decided I was determined to get better. I didn’t want to die and I was fed up of feeling rubbish.”
Beth was tube-fed and gained over a stone in six weeks before she was discharged from hospital. It wasn’t long afterwards that she met her boyfriend, Liam O’Brien, 34, when she was having a drink with a friend in a pub.
She says: “Liam wasn’t precious around me. He knew about my battle with bulimia and anorexia but he ate everything in sight and told me I was being silly when I needed to hear it.
“He was so supportive and his love gave me a reason to recover, I slowly gained weight as I reintroduced foods back into my diet and went for cognitive behavioural therapy sessions.”
But Beth was devastated as she discovered that despite her determination to turn her life around, the damage had already been done. It was too little, too late.
“The laxatives had made me incontinent,” she says. “I’d had an embarrassing accident as a teenager when I’d wet myself in bed with a boyfriend.
“I hoped that things would right themselves after I ditched the laxatives, but of course they didn’t. I was still unable to control my bladder and bowels and was convinced that I’d have an accident when I was with Liam.
“It was a whole year before I could have sex with him, I was so nervous. It caused huge rows between us.
“Even now, I don’t like staying away from home unless I have to and I always have to be near a toilet. My bowels are really weak.”
Beth thought things were looking up after her periods restarted age 23 but doctors explained that the lasting damage means it’s likely she’ll have difficulty conceiving.
She was struggling to come to terms with that bombshell when, in 2007, she began experiencing problems with her teeth.
She says: “I’d get dreadful toothaches and my teeth became almost see-through where they were so brittle. When they began crumbling and I got painful abscesses I was forced to go to the dentist.
“She ground down 28 of my teeth, leaving just my four front lower teeth. The plan was to put crowns on them but the acid from my vomit after years of bingeing and purging had left them too weak.
“Now, I wear dentures. They’re really ill-fitting and I feel ridiculous. I’m hoping for dental implants later this month, organised through Philip Oag, Head of Operations at United Smile Centres, London.
“I’m toothless, incontinent, possibly infertile and have lifeless, wrinkly skin. I’ve been left with the body of a granny and I’m not even 30.
“Now, I want to scream at young girls following the latest fad diet. The ‘dream body’ is just that – a dream. It’s not worth the risk. I’ve paid the ultimate price for mine.”