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Life’s hurts… and hopes

Dr Elizabeth (Lizzie) McNaught nearly died of anorexia when she was 14. Now a hospital doctor aged 25, she wants to help others in the grip of the devastating disease. Lizzie, a Christian, has a message for the church too  

Life HurtsLife Hurts - a doctor's personal journey through anorexia is a new book that documents Lizzie’s story of slowly becoming gripped by anorexia nervosa. Published to coincide with Eating Disorders Awareness Week (27 February – 5 March), it’s a raw and honest account of the far-reaching effects of the disease, and her recovery from it.  
‘I want to tell my story so that other people can associate with it, and find hope through it,’ she explains. ‘That although life hurts, there is a hope and a future.’
Eating disorders are on the increase, she says, and with high mortality rates their consequences are devastating. Lizzie doesn’t shy from documenting how her own descent into anorexia nearly killed her. At one point, having barely eaten or drunk anything for days, she was at risk of a potentially fatal cardiac arrest.  ‘I thought I was just going to the hospital for a check-up, and now they wanted to keep me in;’ she writes, ‘not just in the hospital, but also in the bed — I wasn't even allowed to stand up or walk.’
The book documents the reasons Lizzie became anorexic. The broken leg aged 13 which led to weeks of inaction and weight gain. The resulting cruel comments at schools about her change in body shape. Not being prepared for those comments about how she looked. Setting high standards but struggling because of dyslexia. Overvalued ideas about rejection. It’s clear that Lizzie comes from a loving and nurturing family (her parents are Nick and Carol Pollard, founders of Ethos Media) but this did not spare her from anorexia’s clutches.
For the disease, she explains, controls the mind, and can take hold quickly. Everything is geared towards calorie restriction and an overwhelming need to lose weight. At one point she even had difficulties with toothpaste because of her skewed perception of its calories.
She says how addressing these damaging thought patterns, no matter how difficult and complex, is vital. She details how her own treatment focused on weight gain and an increase in food intake. This focus, without addressing the underlying cause of the eating disease, is the 'equivalent of treating someone with pneumonia by focusing on paracetamol and oxygen without antibiotics,' she writes.

Dr Elizabeth McNaughtShe is therefore passionate about improving medical training and awareness about eating disorders. ‘We should be approaching it as a medical profession much better,’ she says. Lizzie was offered a book contract after speaking at the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ conference on Eating Disorders. She made a speech at the Houses of Parliament on 28 February.
But there is no silver bullet or magic formula. She documents how her recovery was a series of small steps and insights that gradually enabled her to fight back and regain control of her life.  
‘Of course, my experience is individual, it isn’t definitive, but I hope that there are principles that can be derived from it which will help others.’
With early intervention vital, she also wants to improve general awareness of the condition. As such, there is a message for the church. Churches can be very food-focused, which is great and hospitable – but 'really unhelpful' for someone with an eating disorder. ‘Having different events that are not based around food, will make them more approachable for people with an eating disorder.
‘Be open with someone who is struggling, encourage them to find support,' she adds. 'Read about eating disorders, get a deeper understanding.’
Her own faith played a significant role in her recovery, although like the treatment there was no easy fix.
‘It was one of the things that kept me going. I trusted that God was in control, though I didn’t expect Him to fix it. But it wasn’t easy. I constantly battled.
‘How could I trust when this was happening?’
Now reflecting on her experiences from her perspective as a doctor, she is determined to make a difference. ‘It’s not easy sharing this much. It’s been a real shared journey, talking together as a family and writing the book. There have been a lot of tears.
‘It’d be very easy for me to say it was something that happened in my childhood and put it in a box.
‘But if I did that, it wouldn’t help anyone. If by doing this I help one person, then it will all be worthwhile.’

Life Hurts - A Doctor's Personal Journey Through Anorexia by Dr Elizabeth McNaught, was published by Malcolm Down on February 27

For more resources about the book, visit: lifehurts.net

'Now I'm a doctor, I know they treated my anorexia wrong' (Daily Mail)


For more resources, visit Beat, The UK's Eating Disorder Charity


Baptist Times, 02/03/2017
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