Eating disorder took model to death's door

'It's not worth it'

JENNA LYNCH
Last updated 05:00 09/05/2013
Sophie Nolan
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ

SURVIVOR: Sophie Nolan overcame an eating disorder and now wants to tell others of her experience.

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"It's not worth it" is the message Sophie Nolan wants the world to hear.

The 25-year-old struggled with eating disorders for nine years of her life - at her lowest point the Hamilton model's 179cm frame weighed 40 kilograms.

She suffered three heart attacks and was told by an emergency room doctor that she would die if she didn't get help.

So she got help.

While well on the road to recovery, she said it was an ongoing battle and "something you have to work at every day".

And she is not alone.

Figures released to the Waikato Times under the Official Information Act show that Waikato children as young as 6 have been suffering from the effects of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.

In the past four years two young girls, one aged 6 and one aged 7, were treated for eating disorders, while a total of 59 people under the age of 18 have been treated at hospitals throughout the region.

Of those, six were male, the youngest of which was aged 12.

Lynne Blake, team leader and consultant clinical psychologist for the Waikato District Health Board's specialist eating disorders service, said Waikato numbers were similar to those in other parts of the country along with the rest of the world and she wasn't seeing any growth or decline in cases.

"It's all very similar across the board," she said.

"I don't think the numbers are greatly changing."

Neither are the reasons behind such disorders. For Miss Nolan, the issues began when she was aged 14.

School-yard teasing and dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder after her father was in a serious car accident had gotten the better of her and controlling her eating seemed like an easy way out.

"It was my only way to cope and my only way to have control of something," she said.

"I just wanted to be perfect."

At the peak of her disorder, and weighing 40kg, Miss Nolan was also pushing through seven hours of exercise a day.

"I would get up and the first thing I would think about was food, and how I was going to eat and exercise that day," she said.

"When you are in your eating disorder, you don't think you have a problem."

Friends and family were expressing their concerns but the disorder prevented her from listening.

"I could hear what they were saying and in my heart I knew what they were saying but my mind was telling me otherwise," she said.

It was not until she collapsed that she realised that she had a problem.

"After being rushed to the emergency room the doctor told me: your heart can't handle this, you are going to die," she said.

Miss Nolan was 17 when she started getting help but it wasn't until she was 23 that she started "really working at it".

"I've lost friendships, I've lost relationships . . . I've had three heart attacks," she said.

"It's not worth dying for."

Men are also prone to eating disorders, however a spokeswoman for the Eating Disorders Association of New Zealand said that while men were affected, international reports suggesting an increase in men and boys with eating disorders were unfounded in New Zealand. "It has predominantly been, and still is, a female dominated illness but we do see a few males coming through," she said.

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"It can be devastating for males too because it is seen as a female thing."

One man, who did not wish to be named, said he had been on medication for the effects of his obsessive compulsive disorder and eating disorder for the past seven years.

"I'm still haunted by it but I can eat for enjoyment now which I could never do before," he said. He struggled with his eating disorder for about 25 years and found it extremely difficult being a male going through the disease, especially as it was unheard of in the 1970s.

But times had changed, he said, and today's young men did not face the "pressures" of days gone by, so he offered some advice to fellow strugglers.

"One thing I would say, especially to males, is don't be ashamed, don't be embarrassed."

Ms Blake said there was ever-changing information around the causes and effective treatment of eating disorders .

There were many factors leading to eating disorders, with some research now showing the conditions might be linked to genetics.

A change made to the way younger patients were treated was also leading to successful results, Ms Blake said.

"Family based treatment is being rolled out throughout the country as the treatment of choice for children and adolescents, by the Ministry of Health," she said.

Eating Disorders Association of New Zealand: Phone 09 522 2679

ANOREXIA NERVOSA

Eating disorder characterised by an intense fear of gaining weight, distorted body image and refusal to maintain a healthy body weight. Defined as being 15% or more below the ideal weight for height. It most commonly occurs during adolescence.

- Waikato Times

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