As fears grow that online content is fuelling people’s eating disorders, Catherine Scott met one woman who says social media has helped her.
Lauren Perry was just a teenager when she developed anorexia.
“I am a perfectionist and I don’t think that helped,” says the now 29- year-old from Guiseley, near Leeds.
“I went to an all-girls school which added to the pressures from the media and magazines to look a certain way. I started to be obsessed with how I looked in comparison to others which slowly affected what I ate.” But it was when Lauren went to university that her eating disorder started to spiral out of control.
“I was away from my parents and a number of things happened that I had no control over. I could control the food I ate and my weight, or so I thought.
“But one of my friends at university became worried about me and said it wasn’t right. She said everyone was starting to ask questions as I seemed to be wasting away.”
It was then that Lauren realised that she had a very real problem and so visited the university health centre and she was quickly diagnosed as having anorexia.
“As a result I had to transfer back home for my final year,” says Lauren, who is originally from Belfast. She thought she had managed to get her eating disorder under control but when she moved to Leeds for work she relapsed. “I was in a job that didn’t suit me, feeling unhappy with work and lacking self-esteem. I began to feel out of control again.
“As I became obsessed with food or anything food-related I tried to minimise calories where possible, skipping meals, lying about what I’d eaten and measuring almost everything I ate.”
On an 11-week trip to Asia with her fiancé that should have been the trip of a lifetime, Lauren’s anorexia worsened.
“I really thought getting away from it all on the trip would be the answer, but it just made things worse, much worse.
“All food was becoming a fear food, which was only worsened by having to have meals out not prepared by me. I felt trapped, I just cried, I couldn’t face putting a spoonful of rice in my mouth. If I started with one mouthful when would I stop? I was constantly in a panic situation.”
Lauren said she never again wants to put her fiancé through the experience of watching her grow more ill, and “came back determined to beat my anorexia”.
Despite what she describes as having ‘‘a dangerously low BMI’’, Lauren’s attempt to get urgent treatment through the NHS proved difficult.
“Delays upon delays and system administration problems left me helpless and my fiancé angered.” She was forced to get private treatment through her fiancé’s work health insurance, which she says “saved my life”.
She is now in recovery, although knows she will always face issues with food.
“I remember the turning point one night when my psychiatrist told me to write down where I wanted to be in three years’ time. I wanted to be married and starting a family and be able to have a piece of cake at my child’s birthday without worrying about how many calories it was.
“This simple task hit home and the things I wanted in life became so much more important than anorexia.
“There and then, I was making a choice to recover; I was taking back my control. I realised that the alternative would cost me my life.
“I still have that piece of paper which reminds me whenever I start to lose control and it helps me focus on what I really want.”
She learned to recognise her triggers and was given strategies to deal with them.
“I used to avoid various social situations if food was involved and should a meal out be suggested, I panicked, analysing everything on the menu, trying to figure out what had the least calories.
“My advice to those suffering is to keep fighting and don’t ever give up, even when it feels like there is no end in sight. One day it will seem possible, and that day is a day that will mean so much you won’t ever forget it. It will be the day that spurs you on. I am not ashamed of my story and feel it has made me who I am today, I am a stronger woman from the tough battles I have experienced, courageous at knowing it is possible and so, so much happier because of what the future holds.”
Lauren and her father David are doing a skydive on April 6 for the eating disorder charity Beat.
“Beat is an amazing charity and helped, and still helps me.”
Lauren’s father David said: “I am very proud of the courage my daughter has shown to beat her eating disorder and would like to thank Beat for their support along the way. The skydive therefore provides me with an opportunity to raise awareness of this important matter as well as much needed funds for Beat.”
Beat’s Community Fundraising Officer Emily Battersby-Case said “Lauren is making a huge step in raising awareness and money to help ensure that eating disorder sufferers get support.
“The courage of people like Lauren will lead to greater awareness of eating disorders across the UK and ensure that fewer people face their battle alone. Last year Beat directly supported over 17,000 people and this year we will help more than 30,000. The dedication of Lauren and other fundraisers like her is essential in achieving that goal.”
Although there is growing fear that social media is fuelling eating disorders, Lauren says she has found it helpful.
“I have found Instagram, as a platform of social media, truly helpful and a really positive place for recovery. This however is largely due to the accounts you follow and your own choice of choosing the right ones.
“Eating disorders are constantly about making the right choice which is a continual battle between your mind and in my case, that niggling voice of anorexia. In order to make the decision alone to follow a positive pro recovery account takes a while to get to, but once you do it can be such a driver and a simple yet effective support to your own recovery.”
Anyone wanting to support Lauren and her dad can do so at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/davidandloz-19