Mandy Kaye was convinced she would fail her exams if she put on weight...
Originally Published: 27 August 2008
Mandy Kaye was just hours from death before she realised she had to start eating again. She weighed less than 5st, her hair was falling out and her body had nearly shut down through malnutrition.
The bright student had been surviving on just a handful of tomatoes and several cups of coffee a day – all because she thought she would become “stupid” if she put on weight.
Incredibly, she battled anorexia while studying for her degree, and this year graduated from university with the highest mark on her course. “I’d convinced myself the reason I was doing well at my studies was because of my anorexia,” says Mandy, 25, from north London.
'I'd convinced myself the reason I was doing well at my studies was because of my anorexia'
“I’d only been getting good grades while I was thin, so my irrational mind kept saying: ‘You’ll only succeed if you stay ill. I thought that if I got better and put on weight, I would get thicker.”
Mandy’s illness started in 1999, when she was 16 and doing her GCSEs. “I’d always been average academically, but I decided I wanted to do really well in my exams,” she says. “I was studying harder than most of my classmates, and wasn’t looking after myself properly. As a result, I lost weight.”
Mandy got straight As in her GCSEs, but while she studied she would skip meals and work through dinner time. Her weight dropped from 8st 7lbs to 7st 7lbs, at least half a stone below the healthy weight range for her 5ft 3 height.
“My parents were worried about my weight loss, and would try to make me eat toast – but I’d lost my appetite. Four months after I first stopped eating, they took me to the doctor,” says Mandy.
“I was diagnosed with anorexia and admitted to a clinic for children with eating disorders. But I didn’t believe there was anything wrong with me, and after a month I insisted on coming home.”
It was to be the start of many visits to doctors, but despite her illness, Mandy managed to keep up with her studies at college. She achieved three As at A level and won a place at Cambridge University to read geography and educational studies.
But still struggling with her eating disorder, she deferred her place for two years and took a job tutoring children, in the hope that she’d be able to beat it.
“By that time, I knew I was anorexic, but I didn’t understand how to get better,” she says. “I really did want to beat the illness, but I couldn’t help feeling fat, so I’d only eat a couple of apples a day.”
By 2003, Mandy’s weight had plummeted to just 5st 7lbs, but after seeing a therapist, she gained a stone in three months. By October that year, she felt strong enough to start university.
But within a month of starting her course, her weight dropped to under 5st. “I was terrified of eating. I would drink coffee all day, then at midnight I’d have a handful of cherry tomatoes and two apples,” she says.
'I was terrified of eating. I would drink coffee all day, then at midnight I'd have a handful of cherry tomatoes and two apples'
“Instead of going out with the other students, I’d study in my room all day with a hairdryer blowing warm air up my jumper – I was always cold because I was so thin. Sometimes my fingers were so blue with cold, I couldn’t write. I was so bony that I couldn’t sleep properly at night, so in the end I got a sheepskin mattress.
“I’d also developed facial hair on my cheeks and my periods had stopped.”
Mandy’s therapist realised how sick she was, and in November 2003 took her to the Capio Nightingale Hospital, London. She told her if she didn’t cooperate, she’d be sectioned and held in hospital against her will. Her parents fully supported the therapist, and were desperate for Mandy to go into hospital for treatment.
“The doctor at the clinic told me I was so ill, my heart might stop at any time,” recalls Mandy. “When I saw my mum’s devastated face, it was the wake-up call I needed – I didn’t want to die.”
Mandy stayed at the hospital for a month until her weight increased to 5st 7lbs. “In the clinic I was made to eat – if you didn’t, you were given a protein milkshake,” she says.
“My stomach was so small from starving myself, I’d be full after a few mouthfuls. It was a huge struggle, but I was determined.”
It wasn’t until October 2005 that her weight reached 6st 7lbs and she felt ready to return to university.
She says: “Slowly I started to get better and socialise a little. I managed to eat three healthy meals a day, plus a cereal bar as a snack, and my weight went up to 7st. I studied hard, but ate sensibly.”
The real turning point came when Mandy met boyfriend Elliot Brent, 25, an accountant, in January this year. “He told me I was beautiful. He gave me so much confidence – I thought if he likes who I am, then I can’t be that bad,” she says.
Mandy now weighs 7st, but still wants to put on another stone. Her periods have started again, although they’re irregular, and her hair has grown thicker.
Amazingly, she completed her exams in May this year and was the only person on her course to get a starred first.
“I was shocked when I realised I’d come top,” she says. “I almost cried with joy. I proved I’ve got brains and it’s nothing to do with the anorexia.
“This is a new beginning for me. I want to be a therapist in the future as mine saved my life.
“If I ever have a wobble, I just look at those photos of me five years ago – I never want to look like that again.” n
By Boudicca Fox Leonard
For help and advice on beating eating disorders, visit www.b-eat.co.uk.