Anorexia sufferer and mum-of-two Emma Burley reveals how disease has ‘rewired’ her brain to make her fear food
- Credit: Su Anderson
A Suffolk mother has told of her near three-year battle with anorexia, saying how the “deadly” disease has “rewired” her brain to fear the food she once loved.
Emma Burley, a 29-year-old mum-of-two from East Bergholt, lost more than five stone between getting married in April 2012, moving to Australia with her young family six months later and returning home last year.
The disease went undetected until a life-changing day last October when she almost crashed her car in a petrol station off the A12 and later pleaded for help at a doctor's surgery.
She is now receiving life-saving treatment from the NHS-funded Integrated Delivery Team in Ipswich and is being supported at home by husband Neal O'Connor, a 37-year-old Brantham vet, and children Roman, six, and Dexter, three.
In a remarkably frank interview, she felt compelled to tell her story as part of the Eating Disorders Awareness Week organised by charity Beat.
She said: "It rips apart everything. The stresses and pain it inflicts on you, it inflicts on your family. You go through a cycle of self-punishment of 'oh my goodness what I am doing? Yet I can't seem to stop'. It is an awful, awful, destroying disease. It kills one in four people who are diagnosed.
"It is a sickness and a disease and as much as other people might think 'What on earth are you doing? Just eat some more food' those aren't the thoughts in my head.
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"It rewires your brain to make you think that the things you enjoy will ultimately kill you.
"There is something telling me that if I eat a certain food, something really bad will happen. It is hard to explain.
"It is extremely misunderstood and I can see why. Before, I would have said 'Don't be ridiculous; just put the food in your mouth, get a grip, your body needs it, you are falling to pieces, you have got two kids, you need the energy, just do it'.
"I actually love food. I love cooking and miss it terribly. Yet this disease has rewired my brain to make me fear it."
She went from around 13 stone 5lbs before her wedding to around 8 stone last September. She now weighs around 9stone 2lbs. The "extremely tough" recovery process followed that significant day on the A12 last October.
"I suddenly felt like I could not breathe," she said. "I veered off the road but hadn't given myself enough time and went straight through a petrol station.
"I missed everything and don't know how. Thank God I didn't have my kids in the car.
"I drove home, walked round to the doctors, fell in a heap on the floor and said 'I've got a real problem'. I realised this couldn't carry on."
Her goal is to return to full fitness but says every eating decision remains a "big battle". She said: "I consciously remind myself of my children every time I deny myself food because that's the only thing that keeps me going."
Beat's helpline is 0845 6341414.