A recovering anorexic has told how she used to spend seven hours a day running around a room – and eating half an apple and a soup a day.
Stephanie Shott, 23, suffered from body dysmorphia from the age of 13 – after she worried she wasn’t ‘developing’ as quickly as the other girls here age.
She started over exercising and reduced her calorie intake – until she was surviving on just half an apple and one serving of 55 calorie soup a day.
Stephanie was also suffering from anorexia nervosa – a serious mental health condition where people have a distorted view of their bodies and try to eat as little as possible to lose weight.
At her lowest, Stephanie would take daily laxatives and her BMI dropped to 13 – which is dangerously underweight – and she weighed 5st 2lb.
She finally broke down and confessed her eating disorder to her parents in an eight page letter which ended with: “Please don’t hate me. Help me.”
She was taken into The Priory Hospital, Marchwood, Hampshire, in June 2019, but Stephanie continued to drop weight – running around and doing star jumps in her room for up to seven hours a day.
Stephanie went to a specialist clinic in January 2020 and was determined to make a change – getting herself to a healthy BMI of 20.
Now Stephanie is hoping to raise awareness for anorexia by sharing her experiences and highlighting the dangers of the eating disorder.
Stephanie, unemployed, from Southampton, Hampshire, said: “It’s a silent disease that snuck up on me.
“My portions became tiny and eventually I survived on half an apple for breakfast, followed by a cup of 55 calorie soup for lunch.
“I needed to tell someone so I wrote my parents an eight-page letter.
“I confessed everything – that I had been struggling with food, using laxative and overexercising.
“At the end I said: ‘Please don’t hate. Help me.’
“I want to highlight the fact that anorexia is not just a physical condition – it’s a mental illness.
“It’s still not often classified as one I think that needs to change.”
Stephanie began developing issues with her appearance when she started secondary school.
At 13-years-old she developed body dysmorphia – a mental health condition where a person focuses and worries about their flaws.
Stephanie believed it triggered her eating disorder and excessive exercising.
She said: “I went to a Catholic all-girls school and I noticed the other girls were beginning to ‘develop’ more quickly than me.
“They were looking more ‘womanly’ – they had begun wearing bras and I was still in a vest.
“It made me incredibly self-conscious and I started obsessing over my body.
“Anorexia is a sneaky condition and it started to creep in from there.”
Stephanie started reducing her calorie intake and cutting out certain foods she considered to be ‘bad’ – like white bread and pasta.
Before long she was surviving on tiny portions of fruit and vegetables – eating no more than 200 calories a day.
Stephanie continues: “To start with, I cut out ‘bad’ food.
“Things like white bread and pasta were ‘the devil’ in my eyes and I had to avoid them.
“I cut everything into tiny portions and ate everything with a spoon – I think it made me feel like I was eating more.”
Stephanie hid her eating habits from everyone – including her parents – and her relationship with food spiralled out of control.
“I found ways to trick them into thinking I had eaten more,” Stephanie said.
“At breakfast, I would microwave porridge until it was rock-solid and just eat the apple off the top.
“It was so difficult hiding it from them and I knew they suspected something.
“I was so erratic from starving myself, I couldn’t function, I would often snap and yell at them.”
Eventually Stephanie wrote a letter to her parents confessing her eat disorder and asking for help.
She said: “I was running 10 miles a day and taking laxatives to lose weight.
“I couldn’t do it anymore so I gave my dad the letter.
“We had a long talk and hug and I went to the GP.
“I was put on a waiting list for a specialist clinic but the wait time was six months.
“I completely broke down – I felt like I wasn’t skinny enough to be treated yet – I ended up losing more weight.”
Stephanie continued to overexercise and she dropped to 5st 2lb and had a BMI of 13.
In June 2019, she went into Priory Hospital, Hampshire, where she was treated for six months.
Stephanie said: “I ended up losing even more weight and eventually I went into hospital.
“I wasn’t sectioned but my parents told me to stay and I wanted to try.
“The NHS staff were amazing but I felt there was little understanding of anorexia being a mental health disorder.
“I was put on a specialist drink to help me gain weight and as soon as I did, I freaked out.
“I started over exercising in my room – I would run around in circles – up to seven hours a day.
“I was sent to the general hospital three times for internal bleeding.
“I was on constant watch so there was somewhere they while I slept, bathed and ate.
“I had a really horrible time in hospital.”
After being discharged in January 2020, Stephanie began treatment at April House, Hampshire – a clinic that specialises in eating disorders.
She has since gained weight and is now 7st 8lbs with a healthy BMI of 20.
Stephanie said: “In the first week of April House I lost weight and I was told to take a week off to reflect.
“There are only 11 places on the course and if you’re not willing to recover, you’ll be gone.
“That was the moment I decided to take it more seriously and really try to get better.
“My treatment came to a natural conclusion and I’m in a much better place.
“I’ve even taken up running with my dad which has massively helped my state of mind.
“I recently dyed my hair blue and shaved it off for the eating disorder charity Beat – I raised over £800.
“It’s an invisible illness and it’s only when your weight plummets that you’re taken seriously.
“I’m ready to use my voice and experience to try and help others.”