As an overweight teen, I really wanted to drop a few pounds. But little did I know I would be triggering a dangerous obsession…
By Jodie Gregory, 28, from Derby
I hurried across the playground with my backpack, head down and hoping no-one would notice me.
“Oi, fatty,” a voice called out, followed by a chorus of laughter.
My cheeks flushed with embarrassment, and I wanted the ground to swallow me up.
At age 13 I was 17-and-a-half stone. There was no denying I was a big girl. I always had been.
But until I started senior school my size never bothered me.
Now though, at a size 24, I felt like a fat giant.
I did have a few friends and one lunchtime at school I confided in one, Lauren*.
“I feel so ugly, I hate myself,” I said.
“Why don’t you just lose some weight?” she suggested, like it was the easiest thing in the world.
It felt hopeless though. Every night after tea I’d sneak chocolate and crisps up to my bedroom to munch in secret. I was out of control.
“Have you tried making yourself sick?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” I replied, confused.
“Well have your tea with your family, then sneak off and throw it all back up again. Apparently it works,” Lauren explained.
I thought it sounded gross. Who would want to be sick on purpose?
There was no denying I was desperate though.
I couldn’t face another day of name calling and cruel stares from the other kids in my class. Somehow I convinced myself that if I was thinner everyone would want to be my friend.
So that night after dinner I decided to give Lauren’s ‘diet’ a try.
I snuck off to the bathroom, crouched down on the floor and leaned over the loo. Gagging as my tea came back up, I wondered whether it was really worth it.
But the empty feeling afterwards was strangely satisfying. I could still enjoy my food, but without the calories.
Soon I started making myself sick after most of my meals, and to my delight my fad ‘diet’ seemed to work.
“You’re looking slimmer, Jodie,” my mum commented one morning, as I was heading out the door to school.
“Am I? I must just be growing,” I blustered, trying to shrug off her observation.
She was right though. Within six months I’d lost two stone, and the pounds just kept falling off.
By the age of 15, I’d slimmed down to nine stone. Everyone thought I looked great.
Being thinner didn’t win me any new mates, but I was no longer the focus of the bullies.
And my new diet was my little secret. I didn’t need to lose anymore weight, but it had became an obsession.
When my hair started falling out in clumps and my dry skin was flaking away in patches, I knew I was damaging my body.
Still I couldn’t stop. I was terrified of putting on even a pound.
Then, in 2004 I was on a night out with my friends, when a tall, dark and handsome stranger struck up a conversation with me outside a nightclub.
Clem was exactly my type. So, when he asked for my number I couldn’t refuse.
A week later he asked me out on a date and soon we were an item.
The way he looked at me with an admiring gaze filled me with confidence for the first time.
“You’re so gorgeous, I can’t believe you’re mine,” he’d say to me. He was never shy about letting me know how much he fancied me.
I was a size 10 and for a while I was happy. I no longer cared about what other people thought of me.
My amazing boyfriend thought I was fab and that was what mattered.
But the bulimia never really went away. As we settled into romantic bliss, Clem and I would tuck into big greasy meals of burgers and fried chicken, and that uncomfortable full feeling made me panic.
I’d tell Clem I was off for a wee, but instead silently I’d make myself sick.
Then, in 2006, I had a huge wake up call.
Clem and I had been talking about starting a family, and we’d stopped using contraceptives.
My periods were always irregular because of my eating disorder, but when I started putting on weight and feeling a bit funny I made an appointment at a family planning clinic.
“Congratulations, you’re actually 23 weeks gone already,” the nurse told me.
That’s when I knew my dangerous obsession with my weight had to stop. Already I felt fiercely protective of my unborn baby.
He or she needed nourishment, and I knew I couldn’t provide that if I was making myself sick.
From that day onwards I stayed strong, and wasn’t sick once. Instead I watched what I ate to avoid the temptation of heading to the bathroom after a big meal.
And in November 2006 our son, Dayton was born. He was perfect. I felt a surge of pride that I’d stayed healthy for him.
As I cradled him in my arms, my weight was the last thing on my mind.
But the very next day, I looked in the mirror in disgust.
I’d gained a few stone, and shot up to a size 18. I knew it was normal to put on weight during pregnancy, but I felt like a fat failure.
You look a mess, I thought to myself, panic rising as I studied my curvier reflection.
I rushed to the toilet, and brought my breakfast back up in an instant. From that moment, my old habits were back – after all, it had worked for me in the past.
I’d never be sick in front of Dayton, I didn’t want him to see that. But as soon as I’d got him settled I was back in the bathroom.
With no nutrients, my energy was at rock bottom. I looked pale and weak.
A few months after having Dayton, in May 2007 my mum came over to give me a hand around the house.
“Jodie, I’m worried about you,” she admitted.
“You know what it’s like with a newborn,” I said. “I think I’m just a bit tired.”
“This is more than that though. I really think you should see a doctor,” Mum pushed.
To keep her happy I made myself an appointment. The GP took some blood for tests, and told me they’d be in touch with the results.
An hour later I was back home, settled in the front room with Dayton.
Then a furious knocking at the door startled me.
Who on earth is that?
To my surprise, it was my doctor.
“Your potassium levels are dangerously low,” he panted. “I had to rush straight round here as you could collapse at any moment.”
“What does this mean?” I asked, confused.
“Your heart could stop. You need to go to hospital straight away,” he insisted.
Clem was hovering in the hall behind me. He grabbed his keys and took me straight to Royal Derby Hospital where I was immediately hooked up to a drip.
Meanwhile doctors were running tests and had discovered that my kidneys weren’t functioning properly.
Eventually I was discharged with strict instructions to take better care of myself.
“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure she puts her feet up,” Clem promised. But he didn’t know the half of it. I was still too embarrassed to admit the extent of my eating disorder.
Over the next few years I was in and out of hospital all the time. I was having checks on my kidneys every six months too.
Every single time the doctors would fix me up, but I never tackled the true cause of my illness – the bulimia.
I carried on making myself sick in secret. My teeth started crumbling away and I even convinced myself that water would make me put on weight.
Then in November 2014 I hit rock bottom. I developed two blood clots on my lung, and my kidneys were functioning at just four per cent.
That’s when it hit me – how could I be a mum to Dayton when I was too weak to even take care of myself?
Sat at my bedside, the doctor explained just how bad things had become.
“You need to start dialysis. Your kidneys are giving up completely,” he said.
Suddenly, every single thing I took for granted in life flashed before me.
I could have a dialysis machine at home, but I needed to be hooked up to it four times a day for twenty minutes at a time.
I couldn’t just pop out for the afternoon to meet up with my friends or take Clem and Dayton for a family day out.
“Eventually you’ll need a transplant. But until you get your bulimia under control, you won’t be eligible,” the doctor gently explained.
“Is that what’s been going on, Jodie?” Clem asked, reaching for my hand.
For the first time I poured my heart out to him, telling him of my desperate obsession with being slim.
After keeping the secret for ten long years, it felt like a weight off my mind.
I was in hospital for seven long weeks. The only thing that brightened my day was visiting time when Clem and Dayton would come in.
I longed to get home to my family. I knew it was too late to make myself better, as the damage was already done.
However, I had to do something to make sure I was there for Dayton in the future. He needed his mum, not the 6st 12lb skeleton I’d become.
So, gradually, I started to turn my life around. It hasn’t been easy, but with the help of an eating disorder counsellor I’ve been facing up to my issues for the first time in my life.
Clem has been an amazing support for me too.
It started as a teenage fad ‘diet’ but for the first time in my life I’ve realised how dangerous bulimia is…and for me it’s too late.
*Lauren’s name has been changed
As told to Helen O’Brien Google