Real Life: "My Exercise Addiction Nearly Killed Me"
An anorexic exercise addict who lost three stone in a year says she owes her life to her gym after worried staff banned her from working out. Caitlin Millar found exercise and skipping meals gave her a sense of power she lacked elsewhere in her life; a perfectionist by nature, she was wracked with constant insecurity. But her fitness regime spiralled out of control, causing her weight to plummet to a skeletal five stone – less than 32kg. “I was obsessed with being the best in everything I did,” says Caitlin, now 21. “Whether it was in sports events or school, I had to be the most successful or I wasn’t happy.” In class, Caitlin became fixated on scoring top grades, while in her free time she immersed herself in sport. She’d always excelled at athletics and often raced competitively, but when she was joined on the track by newer, younger runners it became clear she was no longer the best – and she started to panic.
“When I started puberty I couldn’t deal with all the changes happening to my body, which I couldn’t control,” she says. “I had always competed in running and when younger talent started emerging and I wasn’t the best any more I couldn’t handle it. My weight was something I could control completely and so I started skipping meals and working out more, knowing that if I kept control of this then I might regain control of everything else in my life.”
By the age of 15, Caitlin felt she was losing her grip on life. Despite her success and large circle of friends, she was convinced she was letting herself down, and in a bid to get back on form, started skipping meals and heading to the gym as often as possible. At 18 years old she wore a size eight and weighed eight-and-a-half stone (54kg), healthy for her 5ft 6in (168cm) frame. As exercise took over her life, however, her weight dropped rapidly as she consumed far fewer calories than her exhausted body needed. But living away from home for the first time, with no one around to ensure she ate properly, her punishing regime was easy to hide. Within a year, Caitlin’s weight had plummeted by over a third – down to a skeletal five stone. Friends voiced their concern, but she was determined to ‘stay on top’ – by shedding even more kilos. “I had been ill for about two years when, one day, I was pulled into the office at the gym by one of the staff. He sat me down and said that he was going to have to ban me from going there as people had been commenting on how worried they were about my weight,” she says. “I was furious to know that people had been talking about me behind my back but shocked that they were worried enough to make a comment. I walked away from the gym feeling so embarrassed that I knew something had to change then and there.”
A WAKE-UP CALL
Only then did Caitlin realise how painfully thin she’d become. For the first time, she felt compelled to see a doctor, and after trawling the internet she found a service designed for people with anorexia nervosa. For a year, she received intensive treatment, having regular meetings with psychologists and dieticians, as well as weekly weigh-ins. “They tailor-made a less terrifying diet plan based on my current food and exercise regimes, which gradually built up over time,” she says. “One year later, I had gained three stone and was beginning to get my life back on track.”
Caitlin is now back to a healthy size and enjoying life for the first time in years. Although she says her “rollercoaster life has finally flatlined”, she still leads an active lifestyle and has even trekked 130km to Nepal’s Annapurna base camp. It’s just that now she’s careful not to overdo it.