As part of the Evening Post’s investigation into Lancashire’s eating habits, LAURA WILD spoke to two young women who battled eating disorders.
Ruby Henderson is a picture of health, with her red wavy hair and porcelain skin, she has a look many would be envious of but, behind her pretty smile, is a story people passing her in the street would never guess.
The 25-year-old is one of many people from across the county to have sought help from Preston-based charity SEED, a support group for people with eating disorders.
“I first developed an eating disorder when I was 12 years old,” says Ruby. “I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 17. It started with self-induced vomiting, bulimia.”
Ruby, who lives in New Longton, says as an only child she was an ‘overachiever’ and worked herself ‘very hard’ and her eating disorder was a way to deal with a ‘dissatisfaction’ in her life.
The former Runshaw College and Preston College student suffered with depression, self-harm, anxiety and panic disorder and had counselling throughout her teenage years.
Soon after starting college Ruby dropped out because she wasn’t well enough to be there, and she underwent treatment from the ages of 17 to 20.
However, she says: “My eating disorder took a turn for the worse when I was 21. My mum moved to Canada and that was difficult to come to terms with. It was a combination of things. My eating disorder was an escapism from what I was going through.
“It was my whole world. I would pathologically exercise and I had an obsession with food. At my heaviest I was about 10 stones. I dropped to 7.5 stones. Last year, when I was 24, I was six stone.
“It was all I had known for most of my life.”
Things started to improve and Ruby moved south to go to the London College of Fashion with her partner Josie Fowler. But the pair moved back home when Josie was suffering from anorexia.
Ruby said a number of problems, including stress at work and Josie’s illness, meant her eating disorder had become a “coping mechanism”.
She recalls: “It started with exercise. I would walk for miles and miles every day. I lost a lot of weight.
“I entered treatment at just under eight stone. In six months I lost a third of my body weight. I got so lost and confused.
“When I found SEED, I had been going as Josie’s carer until it was acknowledged I was suffering.
“It was never about what I wanted to look like, it was always about numbers. Once I had an eating disorder this was my label – I had to fulfil the criteria. I was walking about 15 miles a day. It was all about calories, making sure I wasn’t taking in more than 400/500 a day.”
Ruby, who is now in recovery, says she has spoken out to help others: “The real push for me is knowing my experience can help other people and seeing the work being done at SEED – the hope is getting the message out there about the danger of eating disorders.”
Josie, who is currently recovering from anorexia, says her own illness started at high school with exercise.
Josie says: “It went quiet for a bit, it wasn’t until I was in second year at Preston College in which it became apparent again. It was more restricting my diet. I started to see my GP but I was going to the London College of Fashion so it was a lot easier for me to, not pretend, but assume I was going to get treatment in London.”
After just six months in the captital, Josie’s ill health meant the pair moved back to Preston. She found out about SEED online and she started attending the charity’s drop in groups for sufferers.
“SEED helped with knowing where I could get help from. Just being there and talking about what I was going through. At this point I was still very much in denial.
“There was no major trigger. It wasn’t as if I looked at somebody in a magazine and thought that’s what I want to look like. It was a form of self-harm. I never really realised it was happening.”
Josie, 22, admits she was in denial. At her lowest point her BMI was at 13. Seventeen is considered anorexic and she was well below that.
She says: “I do feel that I missed out on a lot of things because I was ill. But I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t. If I didn’t go for the help that I needed I could’ve ended up dead. Once you start to recover you realise how much life there is to be lived. It is yours for the taking if you want it.”
• In tomorrow’s Evening Post, we go behind the scenes at school kitchens.