A fitness guru who was branded a “whale” by bullies as a chubby teenager when chocolate binges made her an 11st 7lb size 14, lost 4st 7lb and developed the eating disorder orthorexia making her terrified of junk food.
Emma Doherty, 24, “became a recluse” after cruel taunts saw her being home-schooled in the final year of her GCSEs when, depressed, she developed a comfort eating habit which followed her into adult life.
But her toxic relationship with food took an extreme about turn after a Mallorcan holiday in 2016 where she felt horribly self-conscious of her size – triggering an obsession with diet and exercise that saw her weight and mental health plummet.
Emma, of Bath, Somerset, who is single, said: “I used to be extremely active, I used to be dancer. But when the bullying happened, I shut off and used food as comfort.
“I even had girls throw food at me. It was awful and I became a recluse. I ate takeaways, ice cream and chocolate. It was a self-harm kind of thing.
“Because I hated myself, I didn’t see the point in eating healthily.”
She added: “Then, on holiday in Mallorca with my mum and sister, I was the most depressed I’d ever been, because of how I felt about how I looked.
“While other girls my age were in bikinis, I was all covered up in a hoodie, because I hated the way I looked.
“So, when I came back, I joined a small gym, where I didn’t think anyone would see me. But then I became obsessed with healthy eating and diet, which was even worse.”
Breakfast - Bagel or cereal
Snack- Ice cream, chocolate
Lunch - Big bowl of pasta
Dinner - Pizza or pasta
Emma, who eventually realised she was fixated with food and exercise to the detriment of her well-being – which online research revealed to her was a recognised condition called orthorexia – then faced a brand new food challenge, as she fought to get well.
She said: “After overeating for years, I went to the opposite extreme, developing an eating disorder and going down to 7st.
“I was skin and bone and I had a really disordered way of eating. I was actually scared of food.”
At 5ft 3in, weighing 11st 7lb as a teenager, Emma was very overweight, according to an NHS assessment of her body mass index (BMI).
But as she went into adulthood and dropped to 7st, with a BMI of 17.3 – compared to the NHS healthy range of 18.5 to 24.9 – she was considered underweight.
And Emma soon found that, despite her massive weight loss, she had come full circle and was as obsessed with food as she had been when she overate and was equally, if not even more, miserable.
She said: “I’d wanted to make a change, but I went too far.
“And, after I lost all the weight, I still wasn’t happy with how I looked.”
Doing cardio workouts nearly every day, Emma limited her diet to plain chicken and broccoli – losing 2st in a year under her strict new regime.
But soon weight training, working out and super healthy eating had taken over her life.
And by 2019, weighing 7st, she found herself spiralling into depression, as she became “terrified” by the very thought of the pizza, pasta and chocolate she had once loved.
Never exceeding more than 1,000 calories a day – half the 2,000 recommended for women to maintain their weight – she was so obsessed with her regime she had no time to enjoy life.
She said: “Everyone thought losing all the weight would make me happy, but it didn’t.
“I’d wake up every morning and the first thing I’d do is touch my stomach and feel my bones.
“My entire life was consumed by thoughts of calories and how skinny I was, and how I couldn’t go out and eat.”
Breakfast - Egg whites
Lunch- Chicken, broccoli and rice
Dinner- Oats with protein powder
She added: “I had to make excuses for why I couldn’t go out for a meal with anyone. I was simply too scared to.”
Her drastic weight loss also meant her periods stopped for two years, as Emma was no longer producing the hormones needed to ovulate.
And her obsession with the gym was so out of control, that she pushed herself to workout even if she was so malnourished that she fainted.
She said: “I lost my period, I was fainting in the gym sometimes. I looked really unhealthy and I had extreme body dysmorphia – meaning despite being thin, I’d think I looked fat.
“Despite worrying that I wouldn’t be able to have kids, I just couldn’t stop.”
It still shocks Emma to see how the pendulum had swung between her over eating and undereating with such apparent ease.
She said: “It’s quite scary, seeing how I veered between the two polar opposites.
“But, whether I was fat or thin, apart from going to the gym, I was reclusive and depressed.
“I just looked completely different.”
Realising as she hit 21 that she had a problem, despite her tiny size 4 frame, Emma knew her weight loss was not simply about being thin.
She said: “So many females think losing weight will make you so happy, but it really isn’t about that.
“It’s about your mind and, for me, the way I behaved with food – either by over eating, or hardly eating at all – was the way my unhappiness came out.”
Breakfast - Pancakes with Nutella and fruit
Lunch - Chicken with flatbread and salad
Snack- Yoghurt with Oreos or protein bar or fruit
Dinner - Big bowl of pasta with chicken or steak
She added: “I knew I had to learn to like myself and who I was before I would ever get better.”
But there was a tough road ahead for Emma, who was terrified of getting fat again.
She added: “I was genuinely afraid to go back to how I was before.”
She added: “I knew I needed to change and eat healthily, but I was scared of being fat again.”
This fear and anguish reached its peak on another holiday with her now ex-boyfriend in Marmaris, Turkey, in August 2019, where, by now super-skinny, she still covered up, as she still hated her shape.
And when she tried the Turkish food, she was terrified she would become fat again.
She said: “I had the worst holiday of my life as I was so frightened of getting fat and of the food.
“When I got back I joined another gym because I was worried people would think I was fat. I was crying thinking I’d lost all my progress.
“At my skinniest, I still wasn’t body confident at all.”
While there was no eureka moment for Emma, she steadily realised that her obsession with food and exercise was ruining her life and slowly started to move towards a balanced approach to nutrition and workouts.
Now weighing a healthy 9st and with a healthy BMI of 22.3, she eats 2,000 calories a day and enjoys regular but measured workouts – founding her own business, Empower Training, in 2020 and helping others who are struggling to live healthily.
She even allows herself treats, like the odd pizza – and encourages people to try low carb versions using products like Lo-Dough.
And she documents her journey to help herself and others on Instagram, where she has nearly 300,000 followers.
Emma, said: “I’m the healthiest and happiest and most body confident I’ve ever been.
“Writing down my thoughts has made me realise how illogical things have been at times in my head.”
She added: “I would think that eating one piece of chocolate would make me fat, but writing that down you realise that’s not going to happen.
“Now I understand that I need more balance in life and I hope that by talking about it, I will help other people battling extremes with their diet and weight to see that too.”
* For further information about Lo-Dough, the low calorie, low carb & high fibre food company, go to www.lodough.com