As a sport-mad teenager Maisie Northcott had always had a very healthy appetite.
“I had a great relationship with food,” she said. “I was very sporty and exercised a lot so naturally I had a very big appetite and didn’t really have any strict rules around eating.
“In fact I’d say I was the kind of person you’d never expect to go through what I did.”
Maisie, now 18, is recovering from anorexia, an eating disorder that caused her to become dangerously underweight and even came close to claiming her young life.
It was in early 2019 that the Whitchurch High School pupil first realised her attitude towards food was shifting .
While she was still eating three meals a day Maisie, from Heath, Cardiff was restricting her diet, with this – combined with her sporty lifestyle – causing her to lose a considerable amount of weight in a short amount of time.
Throughout her GCSE years her weight fluctuated, having dropped dangerously low while she was in Year 10.
“I lost a lot of weight then,” she said. “I did manage to sort myself out a bit after that and got back to a healthy weight. But while I was doing okay physically I still wasn’t in a good place at all mentally – I was definitely struggling.
“I don’t think there was a point where I acknowledged that it was an eating disorder though. I just thought: ‘Maybe this is a normal thing to happen’.”
When lockdown hit, however, Maisie’s mental health plummeted, and so too did her weight.
As she returned to school to start her first year in sixth form her appearance raised concerns among school staff and Maisie began to experience the horrible effects of her dramatic weight loss.
“Going into lockdown led to everything spiralling out of control,” she said. “It got really bad and I was losing weight very, very fast.
“When I went back to school and started Year 12 I was so weak. My mum took a few phone calls from the school and they said they were worried about me. A few teachers even approached me because I really wasn’t looking well.
“One afternoon I was walking home from school and I remember thinking that I wasn’t going to make it home. I was near my friend’s house and I thought I was going to have to ask her to ring an ambulance because I thought I was going to pass out there and then.
“Most nights, as I got into bed, I genuinely thought I wasn’t going to wake up in the morning – that’s how weak I was.”
Realising that how she was feeling wasn’t normal Maisie and her family reached out for help and her doctor immediately referred her to the child and adolescent mental health services (CAHMS).
After managing to get an appointment with the CAHMS team in December 2020 her weight was taken and she was checked over. While she knew the news was unlikely to be good even she was taken aback at how bad the situation was.
“I was off the charts, literally,” she said. “They showed me the chart which they use to measure how underweight you are and I wasn’t even in the ‘high-risk’ category – I was below that. I was very, very underweight.”
Maisie was diagnosed with anorexia and was ordered to be put on bed rest – and, with that, her life came to a very sudden halt.
“I was told I wasn’t to go out, I wasn’t allowed in school or to go to work, I wasn’t allowed to do anything – everything was put on hold, absolutely everything.
“That afternoon was awful. I’m surprised I wasn’t put in hospital straightaway as I think I screamed the place down. There was a lot of crying from me and my mum.
“Our lives had changed so suddenly and my dad was just trying to calm everyone down while the nurse was telling us how dangerous anorexia can be and how it can potentially take your life.”
The first few weeks and months of bed rest were difficult for Maisie to take. Having suffered with excessive exercise as part of her eating disorder doing nothing at all was a challenge in itself.
Even with a meal plan in place the mental battle she faced remained as gruelling with days dragging on and no real signs of progress to celebrate.
“It was a real struggle,” she admitted. “At the beginning most days I would not do well at sticking to my meal plan and I would get to the end of the day and I would be so, so weak.
“I would be in bits in bed. My mum had to come and sleep with me some nights because I was just so low and so worried about myself. I thought I would have to go into hospital as at that point I just couldn’t see myself getting better.”
But then, just as the UK began to unlock from another lockdown in April 2021, something also changed in Maisie’s mind.
“I’d not really been recovering up until that point,” she said. “I’d been sticking to my meal plan a bit more but I’d always be doing the bare minimum. I definitely wasn’t challenging myself and I was still in a very bad place as a result.
“But at the start of the year I started seeing a dietician and she was a big part of my recovery. She inspired me to incorporate new foods into my diet and gave me the motivation I needed. I’d also been watching a lot of recovery influencers on YouTube – people who had been through the same as me and were now living their lives as normal people, enjoying food again.
“My friends had obviously been talking about what they wanted to do next, going to uni and things like that, and before then I’d thought I wasn’t going to be able to do that. But this was a real turning point. I increased my meal plan and challenged myself a lot more.
“I just decided I wanted my life back and I started to take control of it again.”
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Now, more than a year on from being placed on bed rest, Maisie has doubled in weight and is far more physically healthy. She is back in school, working towards her A-levels, and hopes to go to university in September while she has also started taking driving lessons.
But while she is delighted to be properly living life as a young adult she admits that the mental aspect of her anorexia is still very much part of her daily life.
“I still deal with the mental battle,” she said. “The thoughts are still there. But I have learnt to go against pretty much every one of them – anything that anorexia wants me to do.
“I’m in a much better place and I’m a lot happier. I can actually see some of the benefits of life in recovery now rather than the the kind of fake recovery that I was in at the start of the year.”
Maisie believes that if she hadn’t reached out for help she probably wouldn’t be alive today. While so much more is known about anorexia today it still has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.
With around 1.25m people in the UK thought to be directly affected by an eating disorder the support is out there – from the Beat helpline to GPs, recovery influencers, and campaigns like those that inspired Maisie.
Breaking the stigma and talking about the issue is a very important step to take and she hopes that sharing her story will encourage others who are struggling to reach out for support.
“It is without doubt the best decision I’ve ever made,” she said. “It’s not a normal thing but it needs to be normalised as it happens to so many people around the world.
“Just by sharing my experiences on social media I’ve had hundreds of people messaging me saying how much it helped them to hear about it. You never know who might need the help and support.
“Even if you’re just struggling a tiny bit please reach out – it’s not embarrassing to ask for help and it could save your life.”
Advice for getting help for anorexia or how to get help for someone else can be found here.
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