A-Z

Katherine

Age at interview: 19
Age at diagnosis: 11
Brief Outline: Katherine was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at 11. Due to the atypical nature of her condition, she didn't respond as well to conventional treatment. Hypnotherapy helped her change her mindset and start to get better.
Background: Katherine is 19 and a first-year-law student. She lives in university halls of residence. White British.

More about me...

Katherine problems with eating originate from around the age of 10 when she contracted a virus. Katherine describes herself as “a chubby child” and during her illness she lost a lot of weight and remembers making the connection between not eating much and becoming thinner. She began paying particular attention to the fat content in the foods she ate, checking food labels and controlling what foods her parents gave her. During the transition from primary and secondary school she lost more weight.  Katherine was restricting more and more foods and by 14 her health had deteriorated severely.
 
Initially doctors suspected her weight loss was remnant of the virus she had had, but after further investigation Katherine was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Katherine was referred to an eating disorders clinic and was seen by a dietician, psychologist and cognitive behavioural therapist. Katherine was prescribed high calorie drink, which stabilised her weight. However, she says she wasn’t responding to treatment at all; she didn’t change her behaviour and continued restricting. Katherine was told she had a very atypical type of anorexia nervosa; her mentality and way of approaching the illness was unusual and hence the typical forms of treatments weren’t successful. 
 
Her parents, beginning to despair, looked elsewhere for help. Katherine tried acupuncture which had no effect. She then went on to have  hypnotherapy which seemed to work; she describes how it helped her to change her mindset to want to get better. Katherine realised that she had a lot going for her academically and she wouldn’t be able to progress if she didn’t get better. Katherine decided that it was not worth fighting against doctors’ and family’s advice anymore and decided she would try to get better. She started allowing herself to eat more different types of foods, beginning with small quantities.  
 
Katherine continued going to the clinic for a while, even though their treatment methods didn’t really work for her. She describes how the clinic acted as a safety net and provided reassurance to her parents. Eventually around the age of 16 her parents allowed her to leave the clinic, with the understanding she would return if she ever relapsed. Katherine found a way to “channel energies” into her school work and went on to do very well. Now Katherine is at University studying law.  She describes herself now “at a good compromise stage”; she is still fairly rigid about food intake and times but is continually making progress.
 
 

Katherine became aware of calories when her parents tried to help her lose weight.

Katherine became aware of calories when her parents tried to help her lose weight.

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I didn’t really understand about calories at the age of kind of 11 or 12. So it was really just that was the connection. I knew that when my parents beforehand had tried to kind of help me kind of lower my weight in a safe healthy way, and had kind of given me, for instance like lower fat versions of crisps and things like that. So it must have been just that was all I knew, that I made the connection between okay well losing weight must be equalled with kind of you know reducing the fat in your diet. So I kind of went about it in that way.

 

Katherine was obsessively checking food labels, controlling what food her parents gave her and...

Katherine was obsessively checking food labels, controlling what food her parents gave her and...

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Then increasingly started checking fat content, not really concerned with calories, but obsessively checking fat content, saturated fat contents on the back of packets. Anything that I was eating, components of what might be going into dinners and things, and so this is all kind of in, towards the end of year 6. 
 
And lost a lot of weight over that, and the kind of interim change between primary school and secondary school. And then it just sort of continued really, I just got more and more acute with what I was, what I was eating and checking packets. Checking labels, making sure, getting very controlling over what my parents were giving me, and going to the supermarkets with them, all that kind of thing.
 
And then it just, it just progressed really on a very restrictive path. So you know I’d just cut out all sweet foods and think… I tried to eliminate basically every possible element of fat in my diet so I would just have the bare minimum. And that was, it was really from kind of, it was sort of year 8 and 9 where it got really bad.
 
 

Katherine and her parents weren’t impressed by their GP. Katherine felt her problems were...

Katherine and her parents weren’t impressed by their GP. Katherine felt her problems were...

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I think I was about 12. I think it had been going on for about 6 months and so my parents were kind of finally like, “Okay, this is really weird. We’re going to go and see whether there’s kind of like, like a gut problem first, and you know, and then take it from there.”
 
So I can remember going to the doctor, I can’t remember the, I can’t remember the referral that we had to the main hospital when we were looking to see whether it was actually like a biological problem. I don’t remember that, but I can remember then going back to them and being like, “The hospital has said there is nothing wrong with her, like in, you know internally. It’s something else.” 
 
And I can remember that doctor’s appointment being with the local GP. And him quizzing me on what I’d, like my daily kind of menu, what I was having. And he was quite disparaging about it, he wasn’t, he’s sort of known for not being a particularly kind of personable doctor. And so I hadn’t expected a lot of sympathy. But I can remember coming out afterwards, I’d felt vaguely humiliated about the whole thing, it wasn’t so much that it, it wasn’t portrayed to me as kind of a potential mental illness, it was more like, “Oh you stupid young girl,” kind of, you know, “Just buck up and eat a cream bun,” kind of thing. And then he referred us on then to the clinic that I ultimately went to see.
 
Mm. So it wasn’t a great experience at the GP’s?
 
No. I can remember my mum as well afterwards saying that she hadn’t thought that he dealt with it well. When he referred us.
 
 

Hypnotherapy helped Katherine develop skills she didn’t gain from CBT. She describes what...

Hypnotherapy helped Katherine develop skills she didn’t gain from CBT. She describes what...

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And eventually I went to hypnotherapy and I think actually that was probably one of the main things that helped, possibly because it didn’t give me an opportunity to think whether the treatment they were giving me at the clinic was very much like, it depended on me actually taking the first step and doing what they were telling me to do. And I just, it just didn’t have any effect on me. I just didn’t want to do it and I wouldn’t do it. Whereas kind of perhaps with the hypnotherapy, I just sort of kind of by that stage wanted to be a bit better but needed something that wasn’t really me necessarily telling me to do something. I didn’t, I didn’t really understand. I can remember the sessions, I was completely lucid. But they kind of gave, gave me the skills the cognitive behavioural therapy was meant to give, but that for some reason I just didn’t get when I went to, went to the clinic.
 
So what happened in the hypnotherapy sessions?
 
It was it was like friend of the family or someone who had set up her own, she’d gone private having done it with the NHS I think, and she had her own practice in her and so it was like a very nice kind of like room and you just went in. And she spoke to me for a couple of sessions about the condition, trying to understand it so that she knew exactly where she was approaching it from.
 
And then in, when I ultimately went in for like the first hypnotherapy session, it was, I sat down in a chair, and then was told to kind of, I closed my eyes, and then it was more like we continued the conversation really, so there wasn’t any element of kind of like, “Now you’re going under, one, two, three,” and, but then that kind of like sort of, in a slightly more sophisticated way sort of came in a little bit later on, and you know I was completely aware of my surroundings the whole time. It was basically just like kind of really deep state of relaxation, just kind of sitting there, completely aware of what was going on, not quite asleep but under still like hearing, I can’t remember what her name was, hearing the woman talking to me. And responding. I was able, I was talking back to her and she was just asking me about like, oh God what was she asking? Kind of asking about things from like my childhood and things. And then I think asking me questions about the eating disorder as well, and the condition, and trying to understand it as well. So I was in a state where I was giving her completely honest answers, and yeah without kind of being able to double foot her.
 
And do you remember that you were sort of fully you know in full capacity to stop it should you have wanted to?
 
Yeah, no. She was always very much kind of, I understood completely from the very, from the word go how the sessions would be run, and how much I would be in control because that was one of the reasons I was so hesitant about it at first because I was like “This is complete, this is nonsense like there is no way that I’m going for hypnotherapy sessions. This is absolute rubbish.” 
 
And kind of having met her and having like looked at the work that she’d done in the past, and having done a bit of research on her and realising that it was actually quite like a reputable thing, and she said from the word go, you know, “Look this is what will happen when you come in here. You’ll be in complete control. If you tell me to stop then I’ll stop. You’re able to wake up if you want to at any stage.” So it wasn’t a concern of me after I’d met her for a few times yeah.
 
And how many times did you see her?
 
I think maybe five or six. It must have been less than ten because they weren’t cheap sessions. But certainly we went for about a good five or so.
 
And what do you feel that the benefit of it was for you?
 
I think I just had more confidence to kind of, I was more not necessarily enthused is the right word, but just more willing to kind of approach the, not necessarily the treatment that was being given to me, but on my own terms to kind of improve rather than, whereas beforehand I was just on this sort of flat level of, “I am not going to improve, I am not going to take any steps to try and improve my condition or get better.” The hypnotherapy kind of sort of rationalised I think a bit for me, and sort of helped me realise that you know the behaviour and the lifestyle that I was living was not healthy, it wasn’t fair, and I just sort of approached it more, with more clarity.
 

When on holiday in a different environment, Katherine experienced new freedom. When she decided...

When on holiday in a different environment, Katherine experienced new freedom. When she decided...

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I genuinely don’t really know what happened. I think I just probably because we’ve in a new environment it was, it was a holiday home in an area that we’d been going to for years, my parents, my dad had gone there you know as a child for years it’s been a bit of a family tradition really. 
 
 So we were kind of out the normal humdrum life at home experience, everyday routine, and I think it was probably a little kind of an element of that, so there was the freedom for me to try new things if I wanted to. I knew the opportunity was there. And other than that there really there’s nothing, there’s definitely no conscious thing that I can remember thinking, and being like, “I’m going to change,” you know. Just, you literally just woke up one morning and was like, “I think I’ll try,” I think it was like a packet of prawn cocktail flavoured crisps or something, or if I had a crisp which like sounds ridiculous but like at the time was just a breakthrough, you know, kind of my parents sat there in sort of stunned silence after I did it. And you know it was a big thing, but I can’t remember anything telling me to do it.
 
 

Hearing compliments from guys at university gave Katherine confidence that she’d not had before.

Hearing compliments from guys at university gave Katherine confidence that she’d not had before.

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I’ve always, a in my previous kind of long term relationship that was never an element of it, but also because I don’t think of myself in that way. I don’t, and it’s only, it’s literally only been since coming to Uni that kind of other guys have started to comment on my appearance, and you kind of think, “Oh maybe I’m not actually horrifically unattractive, you know.” And it’s reassuring that kind of there is, you know people see you in that kind of positive light. That you, I just didn’t think that people did at all, and it’s not how I thought about myself. So it’s kind of only impacted positively really. And also like having someone else there who you know finds you attractive and you know, in terms of your personality and your looks, kind of gives you the confidence to take those like big jumps that you need to sometimes with food.

 

Katherine did a presentation in school about eating disorders. Her talk was met with silence and...

Katherine did a presentation in school about eating disorders. Her talk was met with silence and...

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I think like basically everyone knew, it was, it was clearly obvious that in quite a small school it was a, it was a village college so there were literally just you know kind of 500 kids or so, that when that kind of thing gets out and people start to notice things, it gets around. And it wasn’t until year 11 when we had a part of our GCSE, like English assessment was giving like a presentation, and I gave mine on eating disorders and sort of came out of the closet officially. And so it wasn’t really until then that I kind of confirmed to everyone that I was ill.
 
Now what was the response you got at the point?
 
Dead silence, everyone, the whole room went completely silent. I can remember getting the biggest like round of applause afterwards, everyone being like, “Oh my God, that was such a brave thing to do.” And like my tutor kind of mentioned it to my parents, being like, “She just, she just stood up and talked about it. Everyone was just enthralled.” 
 
I think it was just because, like it was such a weird thing for, you know people kind of hear about it on soaps and things, but no-one like actually really meets an actual anorexic. And so it was, my pitch from the whole presentation was like, “If you know anyone who’s going through it, like I’m more than happy to talk to them about it.” It was more, it wasn’t, it was kind of an awareness raising and sort of plea for you know, “If I can be of assistance,” kind of thing. So I think people found it quite interesting really rather than sort of shocking.
 
 

Katherine said that university dinners could be fun for anyone without an eating disorder, but...

Katherine said that university dinners could be fun for anyone without an eating disorder, but...

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So coming here and having kind of formal meals, or you know formal meals, where they are literally like four course banquets, and it’s obvious to people if you don’t attend them, that is you know something that will get flagged up if you never go to formal hall. Because it’s a big, you know it’s a big fun thing for everyone who’s not got a problem with food. Whereas for someone who has it’s an absolute nightmare. And so like for me that was a bit like at first I was absolutely terrified, and I was like, “Oh my God, this is just horrific.” You know there was literally just like wallowing in calories, and then you know, but even in the kind of the six months or so that I’ve been here, that’s not a problem for me anymore. 
 
We had one last week, it was a Harry Potter Charity Formal, and so, and you know we had, I went down there and just, I’m able to kind of disassociate myself from having to count calories for one evening, and I can just be like, “No I’m just going to have fun.”
 
 

Before, Katherine couldn’t go on dates that involved eating but it’s not a problem for her...

Before, Katherine couldn’t go on dates that involved eating but it’s not a problem for her...

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And so kind of going out for meals and things, which is totally you know quite like a big element, particularly when you’re here and like the guy who I’m seeing is also at the Uni, so sometimes the only time that we do have to go and see each other of an evening is if we go out for a meal. And whereas beforehand that would be a really big issue for me, there is no chance of me being able to kind of pursue a relationship if it meant going out for eating then, it’s not an issue now. And I just kind of, he has very bizarre tastes, so he’ll take me to all these random restaurants and I just go with it, now it’s just not an issue. So yeah, not that’s kind of helping me rather than being an inhibitor.

 

Katherine found the will to change suddenly from within herself. “Don’t give up no matter how bad...

Katherine found the will to change suddenly from within herself. “Don’t give up no matter how bad...

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The main thing, and it’s such a cliché, is just to keep going at it. Because there is, like I got to the stage when I was in my darkest days, where there literally looked like there was no possible light at the end of the tunnel. And I was just beside myself, I had no idea where I was heading, how there was any possible escape. It was like I’d fallen down into the biggest pit and there was just no escape. 
 
And then all of a sudden despite everything the doctors had said, I meant, not only did it change, and I kind of went on an upward progression, but it was something that I instigated myself. That I had never thought that I‘d be able to take that step. I always thought that any help that came in recovery would come from outside. And it didn’t, and it’s just sometimes, no matter what the doctors say, it is literally just one of those things that can happen. And unexpectedly so, and I think that that’s something that people should always bear in mind, as parents or as victims, well victims, as sufferers of eating disorders that like no matter how bad it seems, like don’t give up on it. You know there is definitely potential for at least some degree of recovery. 
 
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