A YOUNG woman who plummeted to five-and-a-half stone and would eat just one tin of soup a week is determined to raise awareness about eating disorders.
Dorchester resident Natasha Stewart's problems began when she made a new year's resolution to shed the pounds in 2012.
In the past two years, the 20-year-old has been diagnosed with anorexia, admitted for treatment three times and lost half more than half of her body weight.
She is urging others to get help as part of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which began today.
She said: “I have suffered from anorexia for two years, and have spent the past year in and out of hospital trying to overcome it.
“I am currently coming to the end of my third and final inpatient admission, and I would like to use my experience to advise and encourage young people like myself to seek help.”
This eating disorder has caused Natasha, who weighed 12 stone two-years ago, to suffer from, hair loss, a crumbling spine, liver failure and weak veins.
She told the Echo: “At my lowest I lost two kilos in a week and I would only eat one tin of soup a week.
“I weigh six-and-a half stone now and I know I've got a long way to go but I feel positive for the future. I'm determined to reach eight-stone and maybe even further.
“My problems escalated quickly- at one point I was going to the gym for two or three hours a day. I became obsessed with weight loss.
“I'd lied to my parents by saying I'd already eaten out and then I'd tell my friends I was going to eat at home.
“One time I went on holiday with my friends- they had to call my parents because I wasn't eating and I was flown home straight away.”
Sadly, Natasha suffered a relapse before Christmas and was admitted to Dorset County Hospital.
“I had reached rock bottom but I think that was my turning point.”
She is now attending a treatment day centre in Poole for four-days a week where she receives support from therapists, dieticians and other eating disorder patients who want to integrate back into the community.
The brave young woman, who lives with her mum Joanne and dad David in Charlton Down, has dreams to become a pharmaceutical technician, as well as hope of travelling the globe.
Her problems began when the family were living outside of Dorset before Natasha decided to move to Bridport to live with her nan, in order to make a fresh start.
Her parents soon followed her to the county when they could see their daughter was struggling.
She added: “I was still in denial until really recently but now I'm made to eat I realise it's not that bad.
“Eating disorders are on the increase and I would urge anyone to seek help as soon as they can no matter how small they think their problem may be.
“Unfortunately, I left it too late and let things escalate but if I could help just one person to seek the support and treatment they need then I will.
“It's taken me a long time to get to a place where I feel able to speak out about this illness as it is generally a very taboo subject, however, I have been lucky enough to finally get the support I need and want to use it to encourage others to do the same.”
She said: “Happiness comes in all shapes and sizes.”
EATING DISORDER AWARENESS WEEK
THIS week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week and a chance to increase understanding, challenge stereotypes and stigmas and raise funds for Beat, the eating disorder charity.
Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses affecting 1.6 million people in the UK - they claim more lives than any other mental illness but are treatable and recovery is possible.
A spokesman for Beat said: “The problem is awareness of eating disorders is too low - can you help us change this?”
Anorexia is a disorder which stems from low self esteem and inability to cope safely with worries and problems.
It involves lowering your food intake by skipping meals and cutting down the types and amounts of food you eat; some people over-exercise as well.
Symptons include: severe weight loss, difficulty sleeping and tiredness, dizziness, stomach pains, constipation, feeling cold, growth of downy hair all over your body, hair loss, periods stop or don't start, feeling fat when you are really underweight, getting irritable and moody, setting high standards and being a perfectionist, shutting yourself off from the world, thinking things are either right or wrong, difficulty concentrating.
To get involved visit b-eat.co.uk.
DONATE TO A GOOD CAUSE
NATASHA'S mum and aunt will take on a sponsored walk to raise money for Beat, the eating disorder charity.
Natasha said: “Beat has helped and supported both me and my family and I would appreciate any help that you can give to raise a shed load of money for such an amazing charity.”
To sponsor to their cause visit Virgin Money Giving and search for 'Sibling Strider's' or email Natasha on firstname.lastname@example.org.