JUST over a year ago Mandurah teenager Kate Schoenfeld was close to death.
She weighed less than 40kg and her body mass index got dangerously low falling under 14.
Her hair was fell out, her nails broke, her menstrual cycle stopped and she only fit into children’s clothes.
Ms Schoenfeld was suffering from anorexia.
Now, five months on she has gained 20kg and is at a healthy weight.
Her life is back on track and her family said “it’s like having the old Kate back”.
To mark her achievement Ms Schoenfeld set herself a challenge and will take part in the 4km HBF Run for a Reason on May 27.
“It’s a big step for me because I couldn’t even exercise before,” she said.
“HBF pretty much saved my life.”
Without having health cover Ms Schoenfeld said she would have never been able to get the help she desperately needed.
Her reason for taking part in the run is to increase community awareness of the disease and raise money for the Butterfly Foundation which supports eating disorder sufferers and their carers.
Ms Schoenfeld wasn’t directly helped by the foundation but has friends whose lives were turned upside down after getting in contact with its trained staff.
The 19-year-old said people need to be made aware anorexia is “not a choice” and is in fact a mental illness.
“It’s not a vein disease,” she said.
“If anything it is totally opposite and the last thing anorexia sufferers want is attention.”
Ms Schoenfeld suffered from anorexia for three years and during that time she said her life revolved around food.
At 16 she was going through several stressful situations – pressures at high school, a family illness and pressures of becoming an adult – which Ms Schoenfeld said contributed to her developing the illness.
She felt as if she had no control of her life and the only thing Ms Schoenfeld believed she had control over was her relationship with food.
“I was constantly thinking about food,” she said.
“I was always reading recipes and talking about food.
“I even dreamt about food.”
Ms Schoenfeld began to cut out food groups.
She started with cutting out chunk food and her diet completely changed.
At the time the high school student was only eating fruit, vegetables and drinking water, nothing else.
Ms Schoenfeld would only allow herself minimal food and she began watching her calorie intake.
“It’s crazy to look back to when I would only allow myself to have five grapes and I would feel guilty if I had any more,” she said.
But food wasn’t the only thing Ms Schoenfeld was cutting out, she became like a recluse and her friends, family and interests were cut from her life.
This was a stark contrast to her life before the disease when she loved socialising and going out with friends.
“I became very secretive,” she said.
“I wasn’t myself.
“I would get really angry all the time and I couldn’t stop myself.
“I would try and fool my family by getting up early and shaking the crumbs from the toaster on a plate so my mum would think I was eating.”
But her family knew there was something wrong, they had an intervention and admitted her to hospital for treatment.
Ms Schoenfeld said at first she was in denial and didn’t believe anything was wrong.
It wasn’t until a week after being in hospital that she realised dreaming about food wasn’t “normal”.
Being around and talking to people who were going through a similar situation to her made Ms Schoenfeld realise she wanted to be “free from the illness”.
She stayed in the hospital for three and half weeks only to readmit herself a few months later, this time for a three week stay.
That time she was more determined than ever to become free from the disease and promised herself she would finish her university degree.
Ms Schoenfeld said it’s been tough but she now has a good relationship with food.
“I mentally still have anorexic thoughts but now I know how to deal with them,” she said.
Ms Schoenfeld is learning to accept she had to gain weight and now when she looks at herself she sees a healthy person who is happier and stronger than the sad, depressed and sick girl she once was.
Anorexia has caused her to lose bone density, shrink 2cm and have digestive problems, which never had an impact on her until now.
“The disease doesn’t define me but I don't regret going through it because it has made me the person who I am today,” she said.
Ms Schoenfeld has come along way from the time when looking in the mirror and having her eyes immediately drawn to ‘fat’ areas of her body.
Now she wants to help other girls, and boys, who are going through what she did as well as make people aware of the signs to look out for if they suspect someone close to them has an eating disorder.
“The signs can be cutting out food groups, becoming secretive and isolated, always talking about food and not sleeping well,” she said.
Ms Schoenfeld said people who are suffering from eating disorders need to access support as soon as possible.
She said the best way is to get in contact with the Butterfly Foundation which can put people in touch with the right organisation for the individual.
“If I can get through anorexia, anyone can,” Ms Schoenfeld said.
“Asking for help isn't to be thought of as a sign of weakness or a bad thing, instead a sign of strength and that you're ready to get your life back.”
That’s exactly what the Curtin university student did and is now conquering a goal she thought she would never be able to accomplish.
To support Ms Schoenfeld go to everydayhero.com.au/Kate_Schoenfeld_7 and donate, any amount helps.
For eating disorder support call Butterfly Foundation on 1800 334 673.