LONELY ILLNESS

Picture Martin Bostock'Katie Whitehead who has battled anorexia since she was 18 (now 23). She wants to talk about her experience to try to raise awareness of the condition and of the fact there isn't really suitable help in the medical profession for many sufferers
Picture Martin Bostock'Katie Whitehead who has battled anorexia since she was 18 (now 23). She wants to talk about her experience to try to raise awareness of the condition and of the fact there isn't really suitable help in the medical profession for many sufferers
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TO most people, Katie Whitehead probably seems like any other normal 23-year-old.

She goes to work every day, she is articulate, friendly, polite and has a stunning smile.

She might look a bit thin, but most people wouldn’t realise why.

For Katie, from Marton, every day is a battle.

She is still fighting the eating disorder which has plagued her life since the age of 18.

Although she is now better than she was and no longer dangerously thin, Katie still feels her obsession with food dominates her life.

She has been treated in The Priory in Manchester and Sion House, Preston, in the past when her Body Mass Index plummeted and she was dangerously underweight.

But since coming back home from her last stint in rehab nearly two years ago, she feels she has been left to fend for herself.

Katie - who when she became really ill, used to regularly walk from Hambleton to Marton to burn calories - said: “It feels like there is a lot of emphasis put on the physical side of an illness like anorexia - a lot of focus on weight and Body Mass Index.

“There is not as much focus on treating the underlying cause, the mental health side.

“For me now, it’s habit and I would say it does still rule my life.

“I can function, I go to work, people wouldn’t know about it – but it’s still there and is still an obsession.

“I’m a lot better than I was. When I was really ill, I was bingeing three times a day and making myself sick and I still binge at night now.

“I’m not an obsessive over exerciser like I was, I used to walk all the time and do thousands of sit-ups a day.

“But the food control thing is still there.

“I feel if you are like me and not dangerously ill, there is no help out there.

“I feel overlooked. I’ve been to health services and been promised help, which hasn’t arrived. It gets my hopes up, but then there’s nothing and it leaves me feeling so frustrated.”

The former Collegiate High School pupil also feels disturbed and upset by how many young girls she sees who are fellow sufferers of eating disorders.

Her own problems started when she was 18 and her then-boyfriend - who was several years older - was extremely controlling and took away her independence and confidence.

She started restricting what she ate more and more and exercising compulsively.

When she was 20, she was admitted to The Priory having lost a dangerous amount of weight and forced to eat to become healthy.

But then the cycle of starvation and bingeing started again.

Katie said: “It’s a lonely illness, because you become so secretive. I don’t have many friends and I never really go out.

“I’m lucky I have a really great boyfriend and my family are brilliant support.

“But eating disorders are a growing problem – there are more and more girls affected. It’s becoming more and more common.

“I’m hoping I can try to raise more awareness, especially of the fact there doesn’t seem to be much help available until it gets to the stage where it’s almost life-threatening.

“I’ve been fighting it since I was 18 and I do want to get better, I just don’t know where to turn.”