Mum Amanda Harris, 45, tells of her horror as anorexia took a grip on her daughter Grace when she was aged just 11…
My daughter Grace was a very athletic child with a healthy appetite. She competed for her school in hurdles, was a brilliant cricketer and, like me, an avid runner. As an 11-year-old she was a confident child with lots of friends at the small local primary school she attended.
But around December 2013 everything started to change.
We kept having to go into school because Grace was struggling with her subjects and I could see she was under pressure.
She had also failed an English test they did in the run-up to the SATs. I knew she wasn’t happy and she started to withdraw.
My husband Richard and I noticed Grace was not eating as much as she used to. She had also stopped having chocolate and was cutting down on portion sizes.
As she got thinner and thinner I would talk to her about it but she would stubbornly say ‘I’ll eat again, it’s not a problem’.
I even stopped her exercising, fearing she would collapse.
I had a letter from the school nurse in May 2014 saying she was underweight and had dropped to 27kg.
The same month, she sat her exams. I hoped that once they were over, she would start eating again.
I booked her a GP appointment, saying I thought she had an eating disorder . But the doctor thought she was okay.
It was when Grace asked me to help her wash her hair that I saw how bad she was.
I walked in the bathroom and saw my emaciated daughter, just skin and bone. Her arm was the size of her wrist and you could see every nodule of her elbow and her spine.
She had been wearing baggy clothes to cover up her weight loss.
I was so worried about her and I know as a health care assistant what damage can be done to the body by poor nutrition.
I booked a meeting with the Young Person Eating Disorder team in Winchester, Hants.
But in the days leading up to the appointment she ate nothing. At that point we’d had enough.
We knew we needed help and couldn’t cope with her at home.
So we took her to Salisbury District A&E where they kept her in for eight days.
Living with an eating disorder is horrific. Her brother Charlie, now 19, was doing his maths GCSE on the day she was admitted – and he failed.
I also thought my husband was going to leave us because he wouldn’t be able to cope with seeing his daughter waste away. We were watching her die in front of us. I don’t think it was even her in there – the eating disorder took over.
In hospital she would throw her meals across the room and scream at me. It was only when I told Grace her hair and teeth would fall out that she started to listen.
When she came out of the hospital she was so weak she was in a wheelchair for a good few months. She wasn’t even allowed to get up and walk to the toilet.
I was in absolute despair.
Grace missed her first terms of secondary school, but she did recover and within a year she was back at school and eating normally.
So there was a light at the end of the tunnel – the days were dark but they got better. It made me think about what brought it all on and I knew it was the stress. I never had magazines around the house, she didn’t have a phone or use social media at that age.
Now if she’s stressed she has a cry and we talk about it, whereas before she would have bottled it up and stopped eating.
But now Grace is 15 our biggest test is going to be her GCSEs. We’ve sat down and talked about it. I tell her there’s no pressure and the results doesn’t matter, but the trouble is they put pressure on themselves.
I believe it’s the culture prevalent in our schools. Children as young as 11 shouldn’t be forced to do all these tests. It’s wrong.
For a fresh start for Grace our family have now moved from Dorset to Devon and she’s a lot happier, healthier and is now 7st.
I feel like I’ve got my daughter back.
Anorexia is a mental battle
Anorexia is a serious mental illness where people limit their intake of food to lose weight, with some also doing lots of exercise to get rid of food eaten.
Sufferers often have a distorted image of themselves and think that they are larger than they really are – leading them to develop a deep fear of gaining weight.
Up to 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder, with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder among the most common types.
Women and girls are mostly affected by the condition, with experts estimating only 11% of those suffering an eating disorder are male.
Of those with eating disorders, 10 per cent were anorexic, while 40 per cent were bulimic.
For help and support with eating disorders visit beateatingdisorders.org.uk .