Doctors told me I wasn’t ‘thin enough’ to get treatment for my anorexia
Lorna felt like a ‘failed anorexic’ and became dangerously unwell
A severely anorexic student was told by her GP that she ‘was not thin enough’ to get treatment – even though she was eating the calorie equivalent of a few pieces of fruit each day.
Former St Andrews University student Lorna Beattie was 18 years old and visibly wasting away on 200 calories a day when she went to her GP for help. But being told she was not thin enough made her feel like a “failed anorexic” and she dropped to a dangerous 5st 10lb.
She then spent five months and five days on a general psychiatric ward as she struggled to recover from her illness.
Lorna, who is originally from Glasgow, said: “If the doctor had helped back then I wouldn’t have been through the pain I have been through, and it would have cost the NHS a lot less as I took up a hospital bed for almost half a year.
“My mum had encouraged me to go to the doctor as she could see that I was really ill. When I finally went for help it was such a big deal.
“My BMI was 18.1, which is the higher end of underweight, and the GP just said there was not much he could do to help me. The GP said ‘imagine you’re at the top of a hill; we can’t stop you rolling down, but we can help you get back up’.
“He said my BMI wasn’t low enough for me to be considered anorexic. But I was exercising a lot, so all I had left was muscle which weighs more than fat, so in fact later on in the hospital the nurses said I was worse than they first thought.”
Lorna claims the GP said he could monitor her, so she frequently went to the surgery to be weighed – trying to get thinner each time. The student added: “I went back for regular weigh-ins, but I deliberately lost weight for each one.
“When you have anorexia you don’t think much of yourself anyway, and when I heard what the GP said it made me feel like I was a ‘failed anorexic’. So I lost more weight until I felt like I was ‘successful’ enough.”
Lorna had weighed around eight-and-a-half stone, but the first-year St Andrews student kept exercising for up to three hours a day – while eating as little as 200 calories – and eventually her weight dropped to 5st 10lb. Things got so bad that she was eventually forced to quit university and go home to Glasgow, where she was finally admitted into hospital.
The teenager celebrated her 19th birthday on a general psychiatric ward with just four eating disorder beds, surrounded by adults with a range of serious mental health issues. She said: “I was terrified. It was the worst experience of my life.
“There were a big variety of people – some were schizophrenic, others had alcohol issues or depression. Sometimes the people could be aggressive, though not in an extreme way.”
Lorna was kept inside for most of the five months and was only allowed to walk for 15 minutes at a time. Now 20 and a happy and thriving Geography student at the University of Glasgow, Lorna is campaigning for the city to have its own specialist inpatient eating disorders unit – and for better provisions for people to get help at earlier stages of the illness.
Lorna said: “I feel a lot better about myself and am an unbelievable amount better than I was – that is down to the great help I did get at the psychiatric ward and an outpatient eating disorders unit in Glasgow.
“I wouldn’t be here without them. But it would have been so much better to be in an inpatient eating disorders unit.
“In those units there are specialist nurses who are always there for hard times like meals, and it would be a better atmosphere to recover in than a general psychiatric ward. I am campaigning for Glasgow to get one.”
She added: “If you had told me three years ago that I would be happy, back at university and in a happy relationship, I would not have believed you.”
Wendy Lees, Blackfriars Medical practice manager, where Lorna was a patient at the time, said: “We are not allowed to comment on individual cases due to confidentiality.
“We would not still have the patient’s notes as she has left the practice now. If the young woman wants to get in touch with us we can help her pursue this further.”