Millie Thomas spent more than 15 years in the grips of anorexia nervosa, but is now healthy and hoping to help others.
Millie Thomas spent more than 15 years in the grips of anorexia nervosa, but is now healthy and hoping to help others.

15 years in anorexia hell: How Coast woman cheated death

"YOU'VE got two weeks to live - decide whether you want to live or die."

At 26, Millie Thomas' bone density was worse than the average 80-year-old's and her starved body would soon start shutting down vital organs.

Many people who've been hospitalised with anorexia nervosa, bulemia or other eating disorders hear warnings like these from a doctor.

For Millie it was 15 years into her battle with the little-understood disease, which claims the lives of more of its victims than any other mental illness.

Millie isn't one of them.

Her story is one of survival and hope, and that's what she now represents to the 20 Sunshine Coast women and girls aged 10 to 40 who she mentors through Coast organisation endED (End Eating Disorders).

Millie still recalls being in the grips of the disease "like it was yesterday" so is able to help others talk to her without them being embarrassed or being confronted with misunderstandings people who haven't been through it usually have.

Her battle with anorexia started at age 12 when she lived in New Zealand. She'd just started at a new school.

"I don't know exactly what triggered it," she said.

"I just began with 'I'm going to lose a little bit of weight for summer and it just snowballed."

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Soon she was obsessing over the number of calories she consumed and burned - striving for an image she held in her mind of the "perfect body".

"It was very much wrapped up for me in being totally preoccupied with what other people thought of me," she said.

"I wanted to be the thin one. I didn't want to be the overweight one."

Even though she knew, rationally, that she was genetically predisposed to be slim, once anorexia nervosa took over her mind it was relentless.

"Everything revolved around exercise and food and how little I could consume and how much exercise I could do," Millie said.

She exercised so hard while her body was in a state of malnutrition that she got six stress fractures in her hips.

 

Millie Thomas and her mum in Hawaii, September 2013.
Millie Thomas and her mum in Hawaii, September 2013. Contributed

"It hurt when I exercised, but...it wasn't worth not exercising because the punishment was so bad from the voices in my head."

Every night she went to bed and before she allowed herself to sleep, calculated the amount of calories she had consumed and burned that day.

If she hadn't done enough exercise to have burned more calories than she'd consumed, she would do star jumps before she was "allowed" to sleep.

Parents and carers of people with eating disorders describe a "veil" that comes over their loved one's face when they are being controlled mentally by the disease.

"It's like a demon takes over," she said.

"My mum used to see it - it was like an entire mask had come down over my face and there just wasn't anything that got through to me...anorexia had me, and anything she said or did was futile."

 

Recent images of Millie Thomas, 30, now fully recovered from anorexia nervosa and pictured here with her mum.
Recent images of Millie Thomas, 30, now fully recovered from anorexia nervosa and pictured here with her mum. Contributed

Her parents nearly divorced over the illness and Millie's brother stopped talking to her, believing she wasn't really trying to get well. They're mates again now she's healthy.

Through her teens and early 20s Millie maintained her over-exercise regime, consuming as little as three marshmallows and a can of Coke Zero and spending up to six hours at the gym every day.

The turning point came in her late 20s when she hit "a new rock bottom", telling her mum - who had been with her every step of the way and whom she trusted "completely" - that she wanted to die.

"We'd tried everything," she said.

"At that point I got completely hopeless and thought I'd rather die. I thought I would never be able to kick it...I just felt, literally, complete fear at waking up every morning.

"It was like being in the trenches every day, at war with yourself."

Her mum asked Millie to give it "one more shot" and for the first time since the enduring ordeal began, she said she truly decided to get well.

The Sunshine Coast was her beacon - she and her mum moved here to access hypnotherapy and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and put in "six months of hard slog" Millie says was the beginning of her learning to "truly live" again.

Her NLP practitioner taught her how to "re-wire" her mind, Millie said.

 

Recent images of Millie Thomas, 30, now fully recovered from anorexia nervosa.
Recent images of Millie Thomas, 30, now fully recovered from anorexia nervosa. Contributed

She slowly, through regular and deliberate therapy, learned to stop caring what others thought of her, and to remember what made her "truly happy" - like walking on the beach.

As an anorexic, a walk on the beach was "an ordeal" - it would be timed, calories counted.

When anorexia was evicted from her life, genuine joy returned.

"Sometimes people say you can nevery fully recover," she said.

"I thought, what's the point then, if you can't fully recover?"

While the solutions for each individual she helps through endED will be different, Millie says total recovery is entirely achievable.

Contacting Millie

Email: milliet@xtra.co.nz

Facebook: www.facebook.com/endingeatingdisorders

Website: www.ended.org.au



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