Interview: Starving for acceptance
Elizabeth McNaught talks to Charissa King and Stephen Tomkins
In 2005, Elizabeth McNaught was a happy, healthy 13-year-old. At the age of 14, she was hospitalised by life-threatening anorexia. Now, as a medical doctor, she has told the story of her illness – how she contracted it, how it affected her and her family, and how she survived it – in the hope of increasing understanding and improving how anorexia is dealt with.
She works with the eating disorder charity, Beat. To receive advice and support from Beat, call the adult’s helpline on 0808 801 0677 the young people’s helpline on 0808 801 0711, or visit
www.b-eat.co.uk. Dr McNaught’s book, Life Hurts: A doctor’s personal journey through anorexia, was published in February (Malcolm Down Publishing, £9.99, ISBN: 9781910786659).
How has it been for you, making your story public?
Initially it was really quite scary. It’s very easy with something like an eating disorder that’s got a lot of stigma attached to it to say: ‘I’m going to put that in a box now and leave it in the past.’ Taking it out in public for everybody to see is really quite terrifying. But I hope that it will help people. Working on the book as a family has been remarkably therapeutic, but it’s brought out a lot of emotions for everybody. There were a lot of tears.
Can I take you back to when your disease was at its most serious? Can you describe what it was like living with anorexia?
Anorexia is incredibly all-encompassing; it takes every second of every minute of every day. It was like a being in the room – we’d be at family events and the anorexia was there as well. It was in control of everything. I was living in constant fear of the anorexia, and equally in fear of the consequences of eating anything. It was horrible.
What was going through your head when you were not eating?
I was in fear of putting on weight, fear of losing control, fear that if I started eating I wouldn’t stop. When my mum offered me a glass of water I was afraid she’d put sugar in it. I couldn’t brush my teeth because of intrusive thoughts about the calories in the toothpaste. I hated myself and didn’t think I deserved to eat…
This is an extract from the April 2017 edition of Reform. To read the full interview, subscribe using the link below, or call 01371 851 886 to buy your copy of this edition of the magazine, for £4. To buy digital access to Reform (from £6) click here