We're all aware that eating disorders are a big problem, but plenty of people are not aware of quite the extent to which they can destroy lives. Aside from the obvious issues regarding physical health, the mental struggles that arise from shame, from having to hide things from loved ones and from a loss of self-esteem are horrendous.

Credit: Fixers UK

Just ask Emma Oldfield. Outwardly, she was a healthy young woman - a 20-year-old uni student in Middlesborough. Secretly, however, she suffered from anorexia nervosa, gorging herself on over £100's worth of junk food and vomiting up to 30 times a day.

"At my lowest point, at the start of this year when I was spending all that money, I was making myself sick up to 30 times a day," she told the Mirror. "It would feel like a clean slate each time afterwards, but then the cycle would always begin again."

She had anorexia nervosa - purging subtype, an eating disorder that is a combination of anorexia and bulimia and includes both over-eating and vomiting. "Other than going out to buy food, I didn't leave the house or see anyone for three months. Life completely ground to a halt because I couldn't pull myself away from doing it."

The condition was brought on by the death of her mother from pancreatic and liver cancer when she was just 17.

"Mum supported me in absolutely everything I did. I get upset because I feel like if she was still here maybe I wouldn't have got ill, or it wouldn't have got as bad as it did. She would have intervened and forced me to get help in the early stages," Emma explained.

"When I binge it numbs everything and time goes so much quicker. It got to a point where I didn't want to be here if I was left alone with my thoughts so I had to overeat to block it all out.

"But I'd quickly feel guilty about eating anything bad, and I would have to make myself sick. It escalated from being a once a week thing to multiple times a day."

Thankfully, Emma found help - but not until she had collapsed while working in the US.

"It was hard work and long days, 8,000 feet up a mountain in the Californian sun. I was overeating at mealtimes and constantly making myself sick in secret. I lost about a stone-and-a-half in seven weeks. No one had a clue," said Emma.

Now, after two years, she has managed to overcome the illness via intensive therapy.

"It's really hard but I'm trying to make sure my life comes first and the eating disorder comes second. It's frustrating because I just want to wake up yesterday and be better. People don't understand that it's a mental illness, it's not a choice.

"I've missed out on going out, birthdays, and holidays because of it. I've lost friends because they don't understand it. And I know that it's just as frustrating for people around me; I hate the fact that it doesn't just affect me. But I'm learning to take one day at a time and to see the benefits of taking little steps that eventually add up to make a big difference."

Emma is now making her story public to raise awareness of anorexia nervosa. In the player above, you can watch a short film she made with Fixers - a charity that allows young people to campaign on issues in order to effect positive change.

Words: Mike Meehall Wood

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