Teenager opens up about eating disorder

Kirsty Hensleigh at the Great North Run.
Kirsty Hensleigh at the Great North Run.

A teenager who battled an eating disorder has opened up about her struggle, after tackling the Great North Run for the charity ‘that kept me alive’.

Kirsty Hensleigh, 19, endured a three-year fight with the illness, which gripped her when she was only 12.

Kirsty Hensleigh and Tom Dunne, with their medals after completing the Great North Run.

Kirsty Hensleigh and Tom Dunne, with their medals after completing the Great North Run.

At the most severe point of the disorder, her weight plummeted to five stone and she constantly felt cold, although she was initially in denial about her problems.

Thankfully, with the right help and support, she has managed to overcome the illness and turn her life around.

Now, she is determined to raise awareness about eating disorders, to give ‘this silent illness a voice’. As part of this, she completed Sunday’s Great North Run in aid of Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity – which offered vital support at her time of need.

Fittingly, the date of the half-marathon marked the sixth year since she started her recovery from the disorder.

Kirsty, from Alnwick, said: “After my battle with an eating disorder, I wanted to give something back to the charity that kept me alive and on the right track. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

“I’ve never really talked about my eating disorder before, but it is so important that people who are going through it see that it is beatable and they are not alone. Eating disorders are a silent disorder and it’s time we gave them a voice!”

In what was her first Great North Run, Kirsty crossed the finish-line in two hours and 40 minutes. She was helped all the way by her loving boyfriend, Tom Dunne. She said: “It was an amazing experience. I couldn’t have completed the race without Tom. He motivated me throughout and kept me going, holding my hand over both the start and finish-line.

“He’s a massive support for me and has helped raise so much money, as well as keep me on the straight and narrow.

“The run marked the sixth year that I have been in recovery so we decided to mark this with something positive and a continuing step in the right direction for my health. The run has motivated me to do more to give back to the charity – more fund-raising is on the cards.”

In Kirsty’s own words, the run was a positive experience – but one which would not have been possible a few years ago, due to her deteriorating condition as the illness took hold.

Kirsty, who studies at the University of York, said: “I have never worked out what my trigger point was, what started it all off, I think it was an accumulation of different things.

“In the beginning, I would deny it. I didn’t think that I had an eating disorder and in my head there was nothing wrong, which is frightening when I think about it now. My weight plummeted and I was always cold; I wasn’t in a good way.”

Thankfully, help was at hand, in the form of Beat and EDICT (Eating Disorders Intensive Community Treatment), at Prudhoe, who worked with Kirsty.

She said: “I owe them so much for helping me, and I also have to thank my family. It was difficult for them, but they were absolutely fantastic and they helped me get help just in time.”

Her mum, Alison Foggon, who lives in Alnwick with husband Neil, admits it was a tough time.

She said: “We hadn’t noticed that she was struggling, she hid it really well.

“We first noticed there was an issue when we were on holiday in Scotland.

“We took her in the swimming pool and she was freezing cold and we realised how slight she was. A friend of mine who helped with PE at the Duke’s Middle School also brought it to my attention.

“It took us a long time to get the medical support we needed for her, which was frustrating. But thank God we got help.

“She was in denial about the illness, but once the EDICT team stepped in, and with the support of Beat, she realised she had a problem and in time, we got the normal Kirsty back – because for a few years before that, it wasn’t Kirsty, it was this horrible disease which had taken hold of her.”

Reflecting on how Kirsty has turned her life around, Alison said: “I don’t think you can put it into words how proud of her were are. She has shown so much resilience and determination and has come so far.”

Kirsty and Tom’s Great North Run efforts have so far raised hundreds of pounds for Beat. To donate, visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/kirsty-hensleigh