My fiancé, Dan, was crying down the phone. His voice was so faint, I could
barely hear him. As he spoke, I started crying too. He’d been diagnosed as
anorexic. And it was my fault. I was a recovering bulimic – in helping me
battle my eating issues, Dan had developed his own.
‘It’s because of me,’ I wept. ‘I’m so sorry.’
An average size 10 as a young teenager, I’d started to put on weight after I
left school. I stopped exercising and started indulging in takeaways.
Working as a teaching assistant in a nursery, I didn’t have time to cook
By 19, I was an uncomfortable size 14, weighing more than 10st – too heavy for
my 5ft 4in frame.
I was paranoid that I was bigger than my mates and convinced everyone was
staring at me, the fatty.
Then, in July 2004, my 17-year-old brother, Sean, died in a tragic accident.
He’d been messing around in a disused factory and had fallen through the
Consumed by grief, I barely ate. Two months later, I’d dropped 2st. It didn’t
make me feel better, but it did make me feel in control for the first time
since Sean’s death. Then I found a way to keep that feeling of control – I
became bulimic. I took laxatives and made myself sick after meals. I did
sit-ups in front of the TV and ran up and down the hallway of the flat I
lived in with my cousin, Lisa, 29. I kept my secret by flushing the loo so
she couldn’t hear me vomit. Soon, I was making myself sick five times a day.
By summer 2005, I was down to a size 6 and weighed 7st. My friends told me I
looked good and boys smiled at me. The attention justified what I was doing
I’d kept my secret for nearly a year when I met Dan Tucker, a friend of a
friend, at our local park in Swansea. At 16 he was four years younger than
me, but he radiated happiness – something that had been missing from my life
since Sean’s death.
We started dating, but I didn’t tell him about my bulimia. He didn’t suspect a
thing, and watched me happily eat big plates of food when we went for
dinner. He didn’t realise that it would end up in the toilet soon after.
We’d been together for about a year when he caught me out after a family meal
at his house. I went to use the loo, but the door was locked. Anxiety hit –
I had to be sick immediately. I couldn’t absorb any calories.
Sneaking out the back, I threw up in the bin. ‘You OK, babe?’ Dan asked,
poking his head out the kitchen window.
Panic overwhelmed me. Dan was the one person I couldn’t lie to. I told him
everything. He was angry, then upset. Most of all, he was desperate to help
me get better.
We didn’t live together, but we spent most evenings at each other’s houses.
Dan kept a close eye on what I ate and when I went to the loo. It all made
me feel claustrophobic.
He researched eating disorders on the internet bulimia causes rotting teeth,
hair loss, infertility. He told me over and over what could happen.
I knew my skin was grey and my hair lank. ‘I hate my body. Every day’s a fat
day for me,’ I told him.
But gradually I let Dan in on my obsession – how every thought was dictated by
calories, exercise and weight. With his help, I started to eat healthy meals
and I fought the urge to vomit. I also eased off exercising – and soon put
on half a stone. I had more energy and my skin was starting to glow again.
As we watched Big Ben chime in 2008, Dan had a surprise for me. ‘Marry me?’ he
smiled, then presented me with a diamond cluster on a gold band. I couldn’t
wait to be his wife. This was it. A new start, free from bulimia. But it
wasn’t long before the stress of my recovery caused us to start bickering.
Our rows killed the passion in our relationship and our sex life dwindled.
Dan, who was working as an apprentice at a jewellery wholesaler, started
shrugging me off when I tried to hold him. ‘I’m too tired and stressed for
sex,’ he’d say, heading to the gym instead of being with me.
I wanted to believe him, but I couldn’t help feeling rejected. I was heavier
now – what if he wasn’t attracted to me any more?
I was so wrapped up in myself it took me a while to notice Dan had lost
‘I just want to be buff,’ he said when I mentioned it. Was Dan becoming
obsessed with eating too? I dismissed it. Blokes didn’t get eating
Then in October 2008, Dan skipped a gym session and came to see me. ‘I feel so
guilty for not exercising,’ he moaned. A flicker of familiarity ignited
inside me. I recognised that guilt, the tiny meals, the calorie counting.
‘I think I’ve got an eating disorder,’ Dan quietly admitted.
I hadn’t seen his body for months because we hadn’t been sleeping together.
Dan pulled off his T-shirt – his sculpted chest and torso had been replaced
by jutting ribs and a concave stomach. Dan was anorexic. And it was my
fault. We told his mum – she took him to their GP, who referred him to a
Now it was my turn to help him. I started to go to the gym with him, checking
he wasn’t going on the treadmill for too long, and was attending every
therapist’s appointment. I ate more and encouraged him to eat with me – if I
got better, maybe he would too?
Last Christmas Eve, instead of last-minute shopping, Dan and I were at the
hospital for one of his regular check-ups. The consultant told us Dan’s
liver, heart and kidneys were failing. He was 6st 10lb, skeletal for his 5ft
7in frame, and needed to be sectioned. In that second I saw Dan’s spark come
back. ‘I will get better,’ he vowed.
The doctor agreed to let him spend Christmas at home. The next day, Dan and I
sat down to dinner, surrounded by his family. Everyone’s eyes fell on us. We
began to eat. Dan polished off his turkey and veg – and even managed a bowl
of profiteroles for pudding. ‘Love you,’ I mouthed.
Over the next week, he started eating again, and snacked on nuts and
chocolate. When we went back to hospital, he’d gained 3lb – enough to
Now, we’re both a healthy weight – Dan’s 10st and I’m 8st. We’re too aware of
the pain our eating disorders caused our loved ones to let them take over
I do blame myself for Dan’s anorexia. My skinny obsession overwhelmed him. The
only good thing is that we’re stronger because of it.”
“Louise was so attractive – I thought she was one of those lucky girls who was
‘naturally thin’. So when I saw her throwing up, I thought she had a bug.
Then she confessed to having bulimia. I understood why she’d kept it a
secret, but I was petrified she was slowly killing herself.
I loved her so much, I had to pull her out of it. So I tried my best to check
up on her. I listened out every time she went to the loo, I put more food on
her plate, checked the bins – everything. But I was frustrated she couldn’t
stop, and angry at what she was doing to her body.
As she explained how she was desperate not to go back to being ‘fat’, I began
to tune in. The girls at school had labelled me the geeky, ugly one and I
knew what it was like to be picked on for how you look.
I kept encouraging her to eat though and she slowly made progress. But our
relationship suffered as we argued under the pressure. I often went to the gym
to let off steam – getting in shape was a bonus. I started reading magazines
about men’s health and was spurred on by seeing athletic guys on every page.
I wanted a six-pack too, so I ate a strict diet of just 1,000 calories a day
and worked out to burn off 600.
Within six months, I’d gone from 9to 7st. I felt like death. I was lethargic,
had no sex drive and I was always down. I was on a strict eating plan too –
I had to eat every two to three hours. If I was just five minutes out, I got
in a mood. Often I was too tired to work. I’d lost so much fat I was always
cold, and I hid my body under three layers of clothes.
One evening, I drove to see Louise, angry about not going to the gym, and
feeling guilty for eating my dinner. It was then that it dawned on me that I
too had become obsessed. I had to tell Louise. I broke down when I showed
her my body and explained how I felt. She looked horrified.
But it was three days later, when I went to the doctor and was diagnosed, that
Louise said she blamed herself. I thought the doctor was overreacting and
that I’d get better soon.
I told my boss, who was sympathetic. But in November 2008, I nearly fainted at
work and they had to let me go. I was a danger to myself and my colleagues.
My disorder was killing me, but I didn’t think I could live without it. It
wasn’t until the doctor threatened to section me that reality hit.
I was beginning to feel my body shutting down – I was told I could have a
heart attack at any moment. That made me realise I had to eat to live. And
slowly, that’s what I did.
I don’t blame Louise at all – although perhaps subconsciously I picked up on
her issues. These disorders could have killed us, but they’ve just made us
THE EXPERT’S VIEW
Mary George of B-eat, the UK’s leading
eating disorders charity, says: “Eating disorders are almost always linked
to some sort of emotional trauma, so I’m not surprised to hear that caring
for a partner with bulimia has triggered an eating disorder. If the carer
has body issues buried deep somewhere, then dealing with the day-to-day
illness could bring them to the surface.
“But that certainly doesn’t mean Dan’s eating disorder is his fiancée’s fault.
The issues have to be there in the first place. Eating disorders are not
contagious. They’re a serious psychiatric condition and while I’ve
occasionally heard of copycat cases, there is no documented evidence or
research to suggest they exist.”
LOUISE WEARS: WAISTCOAT, GEORGE AT ASDA;
TOP, MISS SELFRIDGE; JEANS, NEW LOOK DAN WEARS: BLAZER, TOPMAN FOR HELP AND
ADVICE WITH EATING DISORDERS, SEE B-EAT.CO.UK
PHOTOGRAPHY: SYRIOL JONES HAIR &
MAKE-UP: KELLIE MITCHELL DAN WEARS: TOP, NEW LOOK, JEANS, BURTON LOUISE
WEARS: TOP, PRIMARK, JEANS, NEW LOOK