A MUM from Bicester has spoken of her decade-long battle with bulimia to encourage others to seek help during national Eating Disorders Awareness Week.
Mum-of-one Placi O’Neill, 38, from Bure Park, pictured, battled with the eating disorder for almost 12 years before she was able to get help. She now works with the national eating disorder charity Beat to run self-help groups in Oxfordshire, and educates schoolchildren on the dangers of poor self-image.
She said: “My story started when I was about 14 or 15 years old, which is the age people start to be more at risk. I started getting a bit chubby because of hormones, and I started getting comments from other children. That made me feel very aware of how I looked and I started losing any self-esteem I had. The bulimia quickly escalated and became a coping mechanism for anything that was happening in my life.
“Teenage years are very vulnerable – eating disorders don’t cost you any money, and you do it behind closed doors.
“It got to where I was doing it three or four times a day, and it took over my life. I got very sick during my first year at Oxford Brookes. I began to throw up blood and my teeth got very sensitive from the acid in the stomach.
“Then I heard it could affect your fertility. I was in my mid-twenties then, and I’d started to think about having a family one day.”
Mrs O’Neill said she started to leave clues as a cry for help, such as taking housemates’ food in the middle of the night. Then someone very dear to me sat me down and confronted me in a very nice manner and said they wanted to help me. Only after 10 or 12 years was I ready to get help,” she said.
“With anorexia you can see someone is at risk. But with bulimia, you put your body under such stress eventually it shuts down. You just collapse. But you could collapse and recover or you could collapse and die.”
Bulimia can lead to serious health problems including stomach ulcers, ruptures in the throat, bone damage, anaemia and heart failure. “It’s a very embarrasing thing and you’re not proud of it, and you don’t always want to be found out because you don’t think you would cope otherwise,” said Mrs O’Neill.
“You have to start liking yourself, realise you’re doing something wrong and want to get better. What helps a lot of people is to be open about it. The more you talk about it the more you accept it yourself. I can joke about the fact I used to have bulimia now.”
With help from her GP and a nutritionist, Mrs O’Neill was able to overcome the destructive cycle of binging and purging. She appealed to anyone with an eating disorder not to wait as long as she did, but to seek support and advice from charities such as Beat as soon as possible.
Mrs O’Neill also asked for any local people who could assist with self-help groups to get in touch.
National Eating Disorders Week ends on Monday. Anyone wanting more information should contact Beat on 08456 341414 or visit www.b-eat.co.uk.