A mother who has been battling bulimia for 15 years fears she could miss seeing her son grow up after the disease ravaged her body and left her needing a kidney transplant – but she has been told she can’t go on the donor register until she stops making herself sick.
Jodie Gregory, 28, from Derby, has to have daily dialysis to stay alive after the eating disorder reduced her kidney functionality to just four per cent, as well as causing two blood clots on her lungs, her hair to fall out and her teeth to crumble.
But until Jodie – who first struggled with her weight at just 13 and a size 24 – completely beats the dangerous obsession that’s afflicted her since her teenage years, she will not be eligible to receive a donor organ.
Jodie Gregory, 28, from Derby, has been bulimic since the age of 13 after cruel school bullies ridiculed her for her size and a friend suggested it as a means of losing weight
The disease has ravaged her body and has reduced her kidney functionality to just four per cent, meaning she needs daily dialysis and – eventually – a kidney transplant
Jodie, whose weight dropped to 6st 12lb, is now receiving help to address the root of her illness from an eating disorder counsellor and says the bulimia is close to being under control, but she admits ‘the damage is already done’.
At the age of 13 she had reached 17-and-a-half stone and a size 24, and would often sneak crisps and chocolate up to her bedroom.
Her weight made her the target of cruel school bullies and after being ridiculed one lunchtime Jodie confided in a friend who suggested she could try a new ‘diet’ which involved being sick after meals.
Jodie said: ‘She asked: “Have you tried making yourself sick?”. “What do you mean?” I replied, confused. “Well have your tea with your family, then sneak off and throw it all back up again. Apparently it works,” she explained.
Only when she was pregnant with her son Dayton did the dangerous obsession stop – but soon after he was born, she relapsed
‘I thought it sounded gross. Who would want to be sick on purpose? There was no denying I was desperate though.’
It was a conversation that was to kickstart a dangerous obsession that would eventually destroy Jodie’s body – and her life.
‘I couldn’t face another day of name calling and cruel stares from the other kids in my class,’ said Jodie. ‘Somehow I convinced myself that if I was thinner, everyone would want to be my friend.
‘So that night after dinner I decided to give the “diet” a try. I snuck off to the bathroom, crouched down on the floor and leaned over the loo. Gagging as my tea came back up, I wondered whether it was really worth it.
Jodie was once more than 17 stone and a size 24 and felt like a ‘fat failure’
‘But the empty feeling afterwards was strangely satisfying. I could still enjoy my food, but without the calories.
‘Soon I started making myself sick after most of my meals, and to my delight my fad “diet” seemed to work.’
Within six months she had lost two stone, and the pounds kept falling off.
‘By the age of 15, I’d slimmed down to nine stone. Everyone thought I looked great. Being thinner didn’t win me any new mates, but I was no longer the focus of the bullies.
‘And my new diet was my little secret. I didn’t need to lose any more weight, but it had became an obsession.
‘When my hair started falling out in clumps and my dry skin was flaking away in patches, I knew I was damaging my body. Still, I couldn’t stop. I was terrified of putting on even a pound.’
In 2004 she met her partner Clem during a night out with friends,.
But although his ‘admiring gaze’ filled her with confidence, it failed to help her tackle the bulimia.
She said: ‘I was a size 10 and for a while I was happy. I no longer cared about what other people thought of me. My amazing boyfriend thought I was fab and that was what mattered.
‘But the bulimia never really went away. As we settled into romantic bliss, Clem and I would tuck into big greasy meals of burgers and fried chicken, and that uncomfortable full feeling made me panic. I’d tell Clem I was off for a wee, but instead silently I’d make myself sick.’
Jodie’s first wake up call came in 2006 when she fell pregnant.
‘That’s when I knew my dangerous obsession with my weight had to stop. Already I felt fiercely protective of my unborn baby.
By the time she was told about the irreversible damage the condition had inflicted on her health in 2014, she weighed just 6st 12lb
‘He or she needed nourishment, and I knew I couldn’t provide that if I was making myself sick.
‘From that day onwards I stayed strong, and wasn’t sick once. Instead I watched what I ate to avoid the temptation of heading to the bathroom after a big meal.’
In the November of that year, their son Dayton was born – but soon after, Jodie reverted back to her old ways after becoming concerned about the weight she had put on during pregnancy.
‘As I cradled him in my arms, my weight was the last thing on my mind. But the very next day, I looked in the mirror in disgust.
‘I’d gained a few stone, and shot up to a size 18. I knew it was normal to put on weight during pregnancy, but I felt like a fat failure.
‘I rushed to the toilet, and brought my breakfast back up in an instant. From that moment, my old habits were back – after all, it had worked for me in the past.
Jodie ate properly throughout her pregnancy with Dayton but soon after he was born reverted back to her old ways – although she was never sick in front of her son
She is now terrified on missing out on watching him grow up due to the damage caused by bulimia – which has caused her hair to fall out and her teeth to crumble
‘I’d never be sick in front of Dayton, I didn’t want him to see that. But as soon as I’d got him settled I was back in the bathroom.
‘With no nutrients, my energy was at rock bottom. I looked pale and weak.’
Her mum grew increasingly concerned about Jodie and encouraged her to make an appointment with her GP, which she obliged. While there, she had a blood test done.
‘An hour later I was back home, settled in the front room with Dayton,’ said Jodie. ‘Then a furious knocking at the door startled me. To my surprise, it was my doctor.
Although her bulimia is nearly under control, various other factors now depend on her eligibility to benefit from an organ donor – including high potassium levels in her blood
‘”Your potassium levels are dangerously low,” he said. “I had to rush straight round here as you could collapse at any moment.” “What does this mean?” I asked, confused.’
She was warned her heart could stop any moment and told to go straight to hospital.
And as doctors were running tests they discovered that her kidneys also weren’t functioning properly.
But after her potassium levels improved, she was discharged and told to take ‘better care of herself’.
Jodie said: ‘Every single time the doctors would fix me up, but I never tackled the true cause of my illness – the bulimia.
‘I carried on making myself sick in secret. My teeth started crumbling away and I even convinced myself that water would make me put on weight.’
Then in November 2014, Jodie’s health hit rock bottom.
‘I developed two blood clots on my lung, and my kidneys were functioning at just four per cent.
‘That’s when it hit me – how could I be a mum to Dayton when I was too weak to even take care of myself?
‘Sat at my bedside, the doctor explained just how bad things had become. “You need to start dialysis. Your kidneys are giving up completely,” he said.
‘Suddenly, every single thing I took for granted in life flashed before me.’
Doctors told her she would need dialysis every day and warned her she would eventually need a transplant, but that she would not be eligible until her bulimia was under control.
It was at this point that Clem found out that Jodie had been battling the illness throughout their relationship.
‘For the first time I poured my heart out to him, telling him of my desperate obsession with being slim. After keeping the secret for 10 long years, it felt like a weight off my mind.’
The damage done to her body over her 15-year battle with the condition, which started when she was overweight at school, is now incurable. She also relapsed after reaching a size 18 after her pregnancy
Jodie now regrets the damage she has done to her body. She said: ‘That’s when it hit me – how could I be a mum to Dayton when I was too weak to even take care of myself?’
Jodie remained in hospital for seven weeks and longed to get back home to her family.
But she said: ‘I knew it was too late to make myself better, as the damage was already done.
‘However, I had to do something to make sure I was there for Dayton in the future. He needed his mum, not the 6st 12lb skeleton I’d become.
‘So, gradually, I started to turn my life around. It hasn’t been easy, but with the help of an eating disorder counsellor I’ve been facing up to my issues for the first time in my life. Clem has been an amazing support for me too.
Although Jodie’s bulimia is close to being under control, various other factors depend on her qualifying to go onto the transplant register – including the high levels of potassium in her blood.
‘It could be one week or five years,’ she said. ‘But even when I have the transplant it’s a treatment, it’s never going to be a cure. And it’s never going to 100 per cent certain – it could last one year or it could last up to 18.’
She added: ‘It started as a teenage fad “diet” but for the first time in my life I’ve realised how dangerous bulimia is…and for me it’s too late.’