'I'm terrified my kids will copy my anorexia'
Thursday 28 January 2010
Michelle Holgeth weighs just 6st 8lbs and knows if she doesn’t put on weight, her anorexia will kill her by the end of the year.
Her blood pressure is dangerously low, she has a bone-thinning condition and she’s constantly exhausted.
Despite that, the 37 year old refuses to eat properly – and worse, Michelle admits she’s passing on her food demons to her children, Eden, eight, and Poppy, five. A recent report revealed mothers who diet are almost twice as likely to have daughters who suffer from an eating disorder.
Michelle, who’s 5ft 5 with a BMI of 15 – the healthy range is 18.5-25 – admits her son Eden has asked how many calories are in a biscuit, and she’s found Poppy in front of a mirror sucking in her tummy.
“They’ve learnt it from me,” admits size 4 Michelle, who shockingly exists on just 500 calories a day.
“But even the thought of them standing at my own funeral isn’t enough to get me to eat.”
Worryingly, Michelle’s children – who are both normal weights for their ages – don’t realise she’s ill. Poppy says her mum is “fit and perfect,” suggesting she’s already developed a distorted image of what is normal.
Michelle adds: “Eden was checking the back of a packet of Weetabix the other day, and asked me how much 1,200 calories was. He’ll often eat adult portions, and I have to stop myself from saying ‘Watch what you eat.’
“As I can’t control my behaviour, I feel powerless to stop them following my example. I just try to make sure they have lots of confidence and self-esteem. Not having those things has caused my anorexia.”
Michelle’s obsession with her weight started when she was 13.
“I was a size 10 and weighed 8st, but kids at school teased me,” says the media studies teacher from Mirfield, West Yorkshire.
“If I ate chocolate they’d say: ‘No wonder you’re that size.’ So I started skipping meals and avoiding carbs. I didn’t lose much weight, but I grew taller so I looked slimmer. People complimented me though, and it felt good.”
As Michelle’s weight didn’t drop drastically her family thought her eating habits were just a phase and didn’t feel the need to take her to the doctors.
At 19, Michelle moved in with boyfriend Thomas and they married three years later.
“He didn’t mind that I ate salads while he ate proper meals and if he asked me why I was skipping lunch I’d lie that I was still full from breakfast,” says Michelle, whose limited diet kept her at a tiny size 8.
Despite falling pregnant in September 2000 Michelle only ate tiny amounts of cereal, fruit and vegetables.
She explains: “I was determined not to gain weight. My bump barely showed and I stayed in my size 8 clothes. Although I knew I should be concerned about my unborn baby’s health I didn’t feel guilty about not eating enough calories – but I had horrific hunger pains.
“During check-ups the midwife could hear the baby’s heartbeat very clearly because I hadn’t gained weight, and I took this as praise. The doctors never said I was too thin.”
After giving birth to Eden, who weighed a healthy 8lbs 5oz, in June 2001, Michelle admits: “There wasn’t any extra weight to lose because I’d been so strict. When I fell pregnant with Poppy three years later, I ate just as little.”
Being a working mum-of-two meant Michelle was always on the go, enabling her to avoid making time for balanced meals.
But by June 2008, Michelle was eating just two Weetabix for breakfast, a handful of raisins for lunch, and lentil soup for dinner.
“I dropped to 7st 4lbs and was constantly exhausted, cold and couldn’t concentrate,” she says. “I wanted to get better – but that day never came.”
For the last five years, Michelle and company director Thomas, 47, have lived as “soul mates” rather than husband and wife.
She adds: “Every day I expect him to walk through the door with someone else. He says he knows Michelle is ‘in there somewhere’ and will stand by me until I get better.”
She finally approached her GP in 2008 weighing 7st 4lbs. He referred her to a psychotherapist and dietician, who immediately diagnosed anorexia after asking Michelle questions about her insecurities from childhood and desire to be perfect.
She says: “Thomas said it was a relief to have a diagnosis. No one had used the word anorexia before – because I lost weight gradually and had always been strict with my diet, people around me hadn’t noticed me going from slim to skin-and-bones.”
By May 2009 she weighed 7st, and was so weak she couldn’t teach. Her employers agreed she needed time off to recover.
“The anorexia was causing my body to shut down so my blood pressure plummeted, putting me at risk of organ failure.”
In September 2009, when her weight dropped to 6st 4lbs, Michelle was admitted to Seacroft Hospital, West Yorkshire.
She adds: “I went in for my kids, not me. My pulse was just 48bpm, where it should have been 78bpm, and my BMI was just 14.5. I was also told I had osteopenia, which makes bones fragile. It was surreal hearing all that.”
In the hospital’s eating disorders unit she was given half portions of chicken, pasta and rhubarb crumble with custard.
She says: “I did what they told me – it was a relief not to be in control. “In six weeks I gained 8lbs, and my BMI rose to 16.”
But when Michelle was told she’d have to eat full portions to keep up the weight gain, she panicked and discharged herself.
Thomas has begged Michelle to seek further medical help, but she insists she won’t go back to hospital unless she’s sectioned.
She now weighs 6st 8lbs – just 4lbs off the weight she was when she was hospitalised.
She adds: “I know anorexia will kill me, but I can’t stop. I’m still losing almost 1lb per week.
“I only eat two Weetabix with skimmed milk for breakfast, an apple and two boxes of raisins for lunch and a salad with no dressing for dinner.”
Michelle is back at work and having psychotherapy sessions, but her falling weight suggests she’s not beating the condition.
She says: “My kids need me, but I don’t know how to get better. I want to wake up and find the anorexia gone, or not wake up at all.”
By Alexandra McGowan
For more information on eating disorders, visit b-eat.co.uk or call 0845 634 1414.