A 23-year-old man has opened up about his life or death battle with the eating disorder anorexia.
Nick Canham always assumed anorexia was a strictly female problem – until he found himself obsessing about every mouthful he ate.
Now, after six months in a specialist eating disorder hospital, he wants to warn and help other sufferers.
Nick’s problems started in his teens when boys all around him were going to the gym and comparing muscles in quest of the perfect physique.
“As children we hear so much about healthy eating and the obesity crisis. Then we’re surrounded by images of celebrities with perfect bodies... No wonder some of us feel such pressure, “ he said.
Ironically Nick, at 6ft 4in tall and naturally slim, never had an ounce of fat. When he started eating only healthy foods and exercising for hours in his room, he told himself he was trying to build up his muscles.
In fact, he was starving himself of calories to such an extent that his body was EATING what muscle he had in a bid to keep alive.
“Anorexia wound its way through my life like a snake.... I started rigidly controlling what I ate and what I drank – even denying myself water. My portions at dinner became smaller and smaller and I refused more and more foods.”
Mealtimes at the family’s Westcroft home became more and more anxiety-inducing, as Nick’s parents and brother watched him “shrink” before their eyes.
Yet Nick himself, working at a successful job in customer services, denied anything was wrong at all.
By February last year, with a BMI of a shocking 12.8 – half of that recommended for a healthy male – Nick’s health finally gave out and was rushed to A&E with blood pressure and heart rate problems.
“Everybody was brilliant. They realised what was happening and they immediately got me the right help. Within days they had transferred me to an eating disorder hospital in Leicester,” he said.
Here, as the only male among 14 patients, Nick realised for the first time he had severe eating problems.
“The first time I cried down the phone to my dad and said those all-important words ‘I need help’ was the start of my recovery.
“Those three words helped me get the help I needed – the help that saved my life.”
Anybody struggling in private with an eating disorder should not be scared of admitting they are in need of help, says Nick.
“It ss the first stage of your journey to recovery and getting the treatment you need. I could not have done this without speaking out and admitting I needed help. That is the biggest step and it is scary. But I encourage anyone to do it.
“Who are you kidding by not telling anyone? Please don’t suffer in silence.”
Milton Keynes has an “excellent” facility called the MK Lifespan Eating Disorder Service, says Nick.
“They are amazing and they have really helped me. I can recommend them to anyone needing help,” he said.
Nick is currently doing a course in mental health through Bedford College to enable him to help other people with eating problems.
He writing a book about his personal battle against anorexia, calling it Endeavour after the NASA space shuttle and also the ship captained by James Cook that discovered Australia.
“Both pushed the boundaries of mankind.... My journey has led me to discover things I never knew about myself,” he said.
Nick’s BMI is now healthy and he eats normal-sized meals three times a day.
“It’s lovely to be able to sit down with my family and eat normally. My mum has been through hell and back worrying about me,” he said.