By Molly Pennington
THIS STUNNING woman who saw her weight plummet to just eight stone while being failed by NHS waiting lists has revealed how it is possible to beat an eating disorder when medical help is not available.
Graphic designer Emma Dransfield (29), from Leeds, UK, first developed an eating disorder in 2012 when she was 18 years old.
Emma began suffering from binging eating episodes—gaining three stone in less than a year—and turned to bulimia as a method of control, which marked the start of a devastating nine-year battle for her to control her weight.
At her worst, she was binging and eating as little as 400 calories and purging her body by making herself vomit up to nine times-a-day. Her weight plummeted to just over eight stone and she suffered from amenorrhea—the absence of menstrual bleeding—and severe stomach ulcers.
She also developed orthorexia, an eating disorder that is characterised by the obsession with only eating foods that are considered “healthy”, and became obsessed with exercise. She ran a marathon in 2018 as a way to keep her weight down, and in 2020 she was doing as many as 30 thousand steps a day.
Emma didn’t receive professional help at the time because the NHS waiting list was too long and she couldn’t afford private treatment.
Emma is only too aware of how this situation where people suffering eating disorders find themselves unable to access treatment through the NHS has only become worse in recent times.
“When I was 18, I started gaining weight and felt like I couldn’t stop eating,” Emma said.
“This then turned into bulimia because, to me, it felt like the only solution to stop binge eating and gaining weight.
“The worst times during my eating disorder were early on. I was binging and purging up to nine times a day. I had low self-esteem and depression.
“Those were some of the darkest years I’ve had. I look back now and can really see how unwell I was.
“I weighed everything and would always have less than a portion size that was recommended.
“I remember when I was at uni I wrote down meal plans and I would put chewing gum as a snack.
“I found it hard to accept myself and see my worth.
“I was abusing my body through exercise, trying to shrink it as much as I could because I thought if I lose a couple of more pounds I would be happy, but I never was.
“My family and close friends noticed my weight loss and showed their concerns but I always told them I was doing okay and never liked to talk about it because I felt ashamed.
“I felt embarrassed to admit anything was wrong but the more I opened up the more it helped my recovery.
“My partner who I was with at the time found it frustrating when I wouldn’t want to eat at certain places or eat certain things. It put a lot on the relationship as when I found the courage to open up to him about my eating disorder he wasn’t supportive.
“I lost my period, and I suffered from stomach ulcers and really bad bloating.
“I didn’t seek any help as it was too expensive and the waiting list on the NHS was too long.”
In 2021, Emma bravely began taking actionable steps to change her life when she moved into her own home and recognised that having “nobody around” would make it easier for her to “self-destruct”.
Since then, she has gained around three stone, eats between 2500 and 3000 calories per day, and has found a “new love” for strength-building exercises. She has also regained her menstrual cycle.
She has also gone from a size six to eight to a size ten to twelve.
“It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve done but also the best thing,” Emma said.
“I did everything alone which I think was harder than seeking professional help.
“I’ve read books on binge eating and bulimia and also turned to social media recovery accounts and therapists for tips and support.
“Social media can have a bad reputation but the community on there for eating disorder recovery is so motivating.”
Emma has now gotten her “life back”.
“Having an eating disorder strips you of so much,” Emma said.
“I had social anxiety. I didn’t like going out for meals or events.
“I turned down so many fun things because I feared not being able to exercise or what food there would be.
“I now have the freedom to say yes to events and meet friends without having to think about it. I can go out for food and order what I truly want without the fear of calories.
“Once you find that freedom from your eating disorder, the feeling is unmatched.”
Emma has also documented her recovery on her own Instagram page—@emma_d_fitness—which has over 12 thousand followers.
“My advice to someone going through the same thing would be that recovery isn’t linear,” Emma said.
“Some days you will feel like you’ve gone back to your old ways and you’re never going to recover but you will.
“I spent so many days feeling like I was making no progress and my eating disorder was still ruling my life but these bad days only bring you back stronger than before.
“I want to keep sharing my journey on Instagram because I know how many others it helps.
“I’ll also continue training and improving my performance in the gym because it’s something I love doing and I gain so much from it, not just physically but mentally as well.
“I train to see what my body can do and not because I wanted to shrink it.”