An anorexic is pleading for help to get specialist treatment after her disease became so severe she believes she can BREATHE IN calories.
Sophie Hartwell, 23, developed the eating disorder five years ago and it quickly took hold of her life until her weight plummeted to just FOUR stone.
Doctors feared her organs could fail at any moment and even taught her devastated mother Diane, 55, how to do CPR in case her daughter’s heart stopped at home.
She cannot even walk past the oven when it is on or go near people who are eating for fear of “catching” the calories or even absorbing them through her SKIN.
Her family claim Sophie – who now suffers from osteoporosis – can’t even stand to look at PHOTOS of food in cookery books, for fear of getting fat.
The once-healthy woman has been hospitalised, had in-patient treatment and met with countless specialists for years, but has been unable to conquer her disorder.
Her family are trying to raise £100,000 for specialist in-patient treatment at a facility in America in the hope of treating her entrenched underlying symptoms once and for all.
Sophie, from Sidmouth, Devon, said: “I strongly and firmly believe that I can breathe in calories and absorb them through my skin.
“I can’t be in the kitchen when food is cooking, nor can I walk past the oven when it is on.
“I can’t walk past let alone go into a food shop like a bakery.
“My OCD is mental torture, with its compulsions, routines and rituals and obsession with even numbers and being forced to repeat tasks until it “feels right”.
“I do constant hand washing to get rid of calories and germs.
“The anorexic voice tells me that I will balloon up and that it can and will happen.
“I can feel the calories on me- all over me. It’s strange but very real.
“My illness is like a tangled web – lots of intricate pieces to a broken puzzle.
“I am trapped and I feel like I am being controlled by the devil that I can’t fight and I can’t move on.
“Watching my younger brother and sister move on, living their lives, doing all of the things I want to do is extremely difficult and it makes me angry.
“It is like the evil other half of me that has completely taken me over and consumed me.
“I have forgotten what it is like live and to feel free. At the moment I am just existing.”
Sophie says she has always suffered from low self-esteem and endured psychological bullying at her all-girls school, where she said she was side-lined by her confident peers.
But she began restricting her food age 18, in the midst of an ongoing battle with depression, due to the death of her grandfather and her dad Stephen, 55, breaking his back in an accident at work – all in the space of 18 months.
Four years ago she was admitted to Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital as an emergency patient when her weight hit an all-time low of just four stone.
She was fed through a nasogastric tube, and was too weak to even walk to the bathroom, and her mother had to visit daily to look after her.
“If there wasn’t any intervention at this point in my illness, I think I would have died,” said Sophie, who was forced to drop out of college due to anorexia.
“I just would have carried on restricting and refusing food and excessively exercising.
“I couldn’t stop, even knowing that the consequence could have meant death at any moment.”
She was discharged home – despite being severely underweight – to wait at home for three months before getting a place at a specialist eating disorder unit.
But the programme didn’t work and she was eventually discharged.
“My last week there I didn’t eat a thing and was exercising ten hours a day,” said Sophie, who self harms and suffers from anxiety and mood swings.
Her mum, who is her carer, and dad, a carpenter, claim she has been waiting for specialist NHS psychology and psychotherapeutic help for more than two years.
Meanwhile Sophie continues to obsessively exercise, can’t go out to a restaurant, and can’t be in the house if someone is cooking strong-smelling food.
Her mother has to watch her eat extremely low-calorie foods – such as smoothies or cereal.
“Stepping on the scales is a torment if the number doesn’t fall in the right direction,” says Sophie, who is still severely underweight, but does not want to give her exact size.
“Seeing the number go down is fantastic. I feel elated and completely spurred on to lose more and more to become weightless and free.
“If the number stays the same or dare I say it goes up then I am crestfallen – anger doesn’t even cover it.
“When this happens I can physically feel ‘Ana’ scalding me, screaming ‘fat’ – and then she sets me an even more impossible target.
“It becomes your life. It’s like a train is coming towards you at full speed, and you can’t move out of the way.
“I feel guilty putting my family though this. I don’t want the people I love to see me like this.”
The family, including Sophie’s siblings Emma, 22, and Toby, 19, are desperate for her to get better, and have found a treatment centre in America which specialises in extreme cases.
The centre offers different types of treatment for eating disorders, including exercise therapy and nutrition groups, rather than adopting a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Sophie added: “The UK doctors are misinformed and wrongly believe that weight defines the severity of your eating disorder and that is so wrong.
“The US are far move advanced in treating eating disorders and with better long term success rates.”
She added that she does not want to share photos of herself at her lowest weight because it may trigger fellow sufferers, as it is so competitive.
She said: “The illness is not always visible. Even at my lowest weight, mentally I was not as bad or complex as I am now.
“I want the dispel the myth that you have to be emaciated to have anorexia.”
Sophie’s desperate dad Stephen claims the NHS can’t help his daughter and nor can any private clinics in the UK.
He added: “She is 23 now and she has not even started her life.
“It just tears your heart out. If we cannot get her to America, I do not know what will happen because the NHS cannot do it.
“We are desperate for help.”
Anyone able to help can make cheques payable to ‘The Sophie Hartwell Trust’ and send them to Sophie Hartwell Trust, PO box 94, Sidmouth, EX101DB.
Raffle prizes can also be sent to this address. Alternatively, visit: her GoFundMe page