Surviving Anorexia

A recovering anorexic has hit out at mental health services here, saying she could have died only for her family’s support. 

Ulrika Keegan battled with an eating disorder for more than 10 years, which saw her weight plummet to 36kilos (5.6 stone) during the height of her sickness. 

Throughout her teenage years, her periods stopped, her hair thinned, her skin was damaged, and her nails and teeth were rotting. 

The now healthy 28-year-old personal fitness coach and body builder was speaking out in the wake of the death of Big Brother star Nikki Grahame who battled with anorexic all her life. 

The 38-year-old had battled anorexia for years and recently been admitted to a private hospital for anorexia.  

Ulrika told the Doorstep “I was so shocked; I knew Nikki's story and she fought so hard, but it must have fully taken over and there was no going back. It is so heart-breaking. And it brings to life the dangers of eating disorders and another life lost. More services are needed. I had a terrible time accessing services here, you have to go private if you want to advance in any way.  

On its website, Bodywhys, The Eating Disorders Association of Ireland it says, "due to the nature of eating disorders, it is not always possible to find reliable statistics."But their 2019 impact reports say, they received 2,171 emails to their service that year, while 687 phoned their support line. 

Ulrika suffered with anorexia from 15 years to her early twenties and said the services were very hard to access and she wasn't ready to share her feelings.

She said: "It’s all in your head, your brain is the strongest part of your body they say, but a powerful eating disorder can take over. 

“I was dying in front of my family and I just couldn’t see it. All I saw was fat and the more I lost the better I felt. It is a toxic and powerful disease. 

“It came to the stage where I was counting calories in toothpaste. It was so toxic for my mind and health. It wasn’t food anymore, it was everything. 

“I would stand on the scales and it see it going from 38 to 36 kilos, in my head I felt I was going in the right way.

“As a personal trainer now, I am pushing to boost my weight, in anorexic you are battling to keep it off. " 

Ulrika’s earliest memory of developing an eating disorder was when she was a teenager, growing up in Coolock with her two sisters and parents. 

She said: “I’m the eldest of three girls and one night I wore my sister’s jeans and my mother said ‘did you see her legs in those jeans’. I just lost my head. I decided I’m going to lose this. 

“I just stopped eating and lived only on breadsticks which were 18 calories, and I didn’t drink water I just drank diet coke. I did so much damage, thank god I was so young and I am in recovery years now. 

“But at the time, I was always cold, my hair was fine, my nails were broken, and my skin was in bits. I could cup my hand around my thighs. 

“It was all skin and I had no fat but if I saw lose skin, I’d be thinking ‘I need that to go’. I had barely any energy to walk. It was a struggle. When you decrease your calories, it wipes you out. 

“My stomach would be rumbling, but I would block it out. People were staring at me and starting to say it to me. But I would not listen. 

“I went from a size zero to a healthy size ten.  No matter where I went, I didn’t get the help I needed, you really need private care if you want a chance to survive, we found the services so bad. I had to go for osteoporosis scans. People don’t realise the carnage you can cause your body. 

Ulrika’s life turned around after she followed her sister to the gym, and she saw someone with a six pack and said, “I want that”. 

A man in the gym said, “you’ll have to start eating if you want that” and that was the turning point in Ulrika’s life. 

She said: “I did have knocks when I started recovering,  and things were creeping into my head, but I trusted this man and stuck to the meals and plans he gave me. He helped me all the way and I was able to eat and eat well. 

“My periods came back and I started to recover, and I got into body building and personal fitness and it has been so great for me. I know now the damage I did to myself and my family”. 

The young Dubliner said she believes social media is a “nightmare” for young kids today, particularly with photoshopped images. 

She said “I think social media is not helpful at all, if I had children, I’d ban them from social media if I could. I don’t find it helpful. You are seeing big influencers who are altering their images and it is distressing. 

“Khloe Kardashian is a real example, all that media about her last week when she used her PR team and money to request one image be taken down because it was not edited. It was not right. I’d rather see the natural image than a false one. Why did she want it taken down? It’s natural. 

“I just think you end up looking at someone else and you think they are perfect when they are not, you can develop body dysmorphia and that’s another big issue. Young girls and boys don’t know that and the pressure they are under. It is too much for them and all these diets, it’s just causing more problems. 

“We need a whole revamp of the services and a bigger debate”. 

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