It started with a teenager’s wish to lose a few pounds - and it led to a six-year battle with eating disorders for Brighouse student Emily Ellis.
Now 19, Emily, a student at Brighouse High School sixth form centre, is looking forward to leaving home and taking up a place at East 15 Acting School at the University of Essex.
But just a couple of years ago, her struggle with anorexia had left her lacking in energy and concentration and constantly tired.
It wasn’t until a doctor told her she would need hospital treatment that she began to seek help and start the slow journey to recovery.
Now Emily, who lives with her family at Clifton Common, is hoping to help other people with eating disorders by organising a fundraising evening on Friday, April 26.
Her 23-year-old sister Charlotte, who is training to be a teacher, is also helping to organise the event at the Black Horse Inn, Clifton, while another sister, Victoria, is undertaking a tandem skydive on May 4. All the proceeds from both events will go to Beat, the nationwide charity that supports people affected by eating disorders.
Emily says her difficulties with food began when she was 13 and she was bullied for being ‘fat’.
At first, she gave up chocolate and sweets and started skipping breakfast. Before long she was also missing lunch and eating tiny portions for her evening meal.
“I thought it was great because I could feel my hip-bones and people told me I looked slim. It was easy to get away without eating properly. But it got to the point where I just couldn’t stop myself. I hardly needed to eat anything before I felt full,” said Emily.
“I realise now it was all about control and not letting myself eat normally.”
Eventually Emily’s health began to suffer. Her periods stopped and she was listless and exhausted.
A teacher at Emily’s school noticed that she wasn’t eating at lunchtime and got in touch with Emily’s family to express her concern.
Emily’s sister, Charlotte, said: “Because it coincided with a growth spurt and Emily was getting quite tall, we just thought she was naturally slimming down at first. But then we realised there was a serious problem.”
Charlotte remembers the impact her sister’s battles with food had on family life.
“It affected the way all of us enjoyed mealtimes and it was impossible to all go out together for a family celebration.”
The Ellis family was given counselling with Calderdale adult mental health team and Emily was referred for medical help.
“I was almost admitted to hospital when I was 15 and had got down to six stone. I was told that if I didn’t put on weight and start eating properly I would end up in hospital,” she said.
“That was a turning point for me. Very gradually I began to eat properly and tried to have three meals a day. You have to train yourself to enjoy food again.
“I realised I wasn’t just hurting myself, I was having an effect on my whole family.
“I am aware of the dangers of slipping back but things are so much more fun now. We can go out together as a family, I can enjoy my favourite food and I am looking forward to going away to college.”
Both sisters agree that today’s teenagers and young women are under enormous pressure to conform to stereotypical images of beauty.
Charlotte said: “There are some horrible websites out there encouraging young women who are suffering from anorexia to lose even more weight.
“Fortunately we are very close as a family and were able to work together to help Emily get through it.
“We also got a lot of help from the charity Beat which has a brilliant website and forums and are just so supportive.
“We want to raise as much as we can for Beat - and we’re very grateful for the help we’ve had from Mark and June Duffy and the Russell family at the Black Horse.”
Beat provides helplines, self help and support groups for people with eating disorders and their families, as well as training for health and social care professionals.
l The fund-raising evening starts at 7.30pm on April 26 at the Black Horse, Clifton. There is a charity auction, raffle, live music, games and food. Tickets are £7.50 and £3 (under 12s).
For ticket information contact Emily on 07944 981125.