x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Two coffees, a fruit and three hours at the gym for UAE anorexia victim

The 23-year-old has a degree in nutrition and psychology, and knows her behaviour is not healthy, but she still cannot overcome the illness.

Shaima has battled anorexia and bulimia for more than eight years.

The 23-year-old Emirati has a degree in nutrition and psychology, so she knows what she should be eating and that her behaviour is not healthy.

But she still cannot overcome the illness, which has now caused her to stop menstruating.

"I worry about not being able to have children but I also don't want to get pregnant because I will be fat," she said.

A healthy weight for Shaima is about 61 kilograms but she has dropped as low as 45kg.

At school and college, she had trouble concentrating and suffered from depression, which led her to self harm.

"When you want to be perfect, your grades must be perfect just like your body," she said.

When she first told her parents three years ago, she was sent to therapy. But she resisted help and adopted a common practice among bulimics, of eating in front of people then making herself vomit in private.

"I didn't want the help," she said.

Shaima's problems began as a teenager when she found "pro-ana" websites promoting anorexia that offered tips on how to starve yourself and make yourself sick.

Despite symptoms such as hair loss and numerous bruises and wounds from self-harming, she managed to keep her behaviour secret for years.

Her family now know but still struggle to understand.

"Your eyes just don't work the way their eyes do. We don't see the same things," she said. "It's complicated. Sometimes you want to get better and sometimes you don't."

She is now in therapy of her own volition and is on medication.

But she still cannot eat enough and her day consists of two coffees, a piece of fruit and three tough hours in the gym, which she slogs through with very little energy.

"At university I was at my best," she said. "I had distractions but now I'm just alone with my thoughts."

Shaima said that while campaigns for schoolchildren might raise awareness of eating disorders, they could also leave dangerous impressions. "If a girl wants to be thin she will do whatever she wants anyway," she said.

Even with help, the road to recovery is long and hard.

"My therapy is helping but if you're not willing to help yourself, nobody can help you," she said.

mswan@thenational.ae