A Lancaster medical student has made a film showing that you don’t need to be ‘stick thin’ to have an eating disorder after a GP told her ‘I’ve seen worse than you.’
Harriet Davis, who is studying medicine at Lancaster University, was later hospitalised after her illness became life-threatening.
Now, to mark Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which begins today, Harriet has made a film challenging stereotypes about anorexia and bulimia with the help of Fixers, the charity which gives young people a voice.
The 24-year-old said: “I want medical professionals to realise that you don’t need to look a certain way to have an eating disorder.
“I remember going to the doctors with my mum – my weight was borderline healthy and the GP said ‘I’ve seen worse than you, so you’ll be okay’ and just told me to eat more.
“At that time I didn’t understand the full implications of what I was doing, and hearing that just made me feel like I didn’t have a problem and it was fine to keep restricting food.
“GPs need to know when to refer people to specialist services and what help is available in the area – in the past I’ve felt like GPs haven’t known what help was around and what could be offered to me.
“Early intervention is crucial. I want my film to show people in the medical profession, as well as the general public, that not everyone with an eating disorder is going to be stick thin.”
Harriet developed an eating disorder at the age of 15.
She said: “I felt like I’d gained some weight and I wanted to lose it. I started dieting, and I got very restrictive very quickly.
“I felt like I looked bigger than I was and I really wanted the positive feeling of losing weight and looking thinner.
“In addition, there were quite a few deaths in the family in a short space of time and looking back I think it had a big emotional impact on me.”
After her condition worsened Harriet went to St George’s Hospital in London, where she received treatment for seven months before being discharged.
But she struggled to overcome the eating disorder and relapsed five years later.
She said: ‘I struggled to eat anything. I was cold all the time, my hands and feet were numb constantly, and I worried some nights when I went to bed about my heart and if I’d wake up in the morning.
“I lost motivation to talk and interact with others, and my friends didn’t know what to do or say to help me.”
Harriet was admitted to The Priory hospital, where she spent a year recovering.
After attending therapy groups, working on weight gain and meeting with an occupational therapist, she was discharged.
She resumed her studies in 2015 and is determined to complete her degree.
“If I didn’t have medicine I think I’d just be in and out of hospital because I wouldn’t feel like I had a purpose in life,” she said.
Harriet advises anyone who is suffering from an eating disorder to find something in life they are passionate about.
“Let your drive be focused on a constructive rather than destructive purpose,” she said.
“Realise that you can be ‘rescued’ by doctors and nurses, but in order to recover you also need to become your own ‘rescuer’ and use the tools you’ve been given to cast off the blanket of the eating disorder and create a new way of comforting yourself.”
Fixers works with young people aged 16-25 across the UK by providing them with resources to help them campaign on issues they feel strongly about.
The charity has helped more than 19,000 youngsters across the UK to have a voice in their community on issues such as cyber-bullying, self-harm, suicide or transphobia.
For more information or to make a donation to fund more Fixer projects, visit www.fixers.org.uk.
Eating Disorders Awareness Week is an international awareness event, fighting the myths and misunderstandings that surround eating disorders.
This year the week runs from February 27 to March 5.