Southwater woman tackles eating disorder taboos

After enduring her own battle against anorexia nervosa, Kerry Short tells reporter Harley Tamplin why she’s setting her sights on raising awareness and money for charity BEAT.

Thursday, 23rd January 2014, 1:20 pm
JPCT 140114 S14030315x Kerry Short, recovering from anorexia -photo by Steve Cobb

There is nothing about Kerry Short to suggest she is any different to most 21-year-old women.

She is well-dressed, often light-hearted and undeniably, undoubtedly, happy when she strolls into the County Times’ office.

She is not what you would expect from somebody who, in her own words, was ‘close to death’ just a matter of months ago.

“I could have died, I was pretty close to death,” she says.

“I had heart problems due to it and I could have had a heart attack at any point.

“Looking back now, I think it is absolutely crazy.”

Around a year ago, during her final year of university, Kerry became aware that she was losing weight quickly.

She was suffering from anorexia nervosa.

Kerry explains that she finished her degree while battling the eating disorder and - even more remarkably - earned first class honours in Fine Art and Illustration.

However, in July of last year, she was admitted to hospital.

It was where she remained for four and a half months. Finally, she was discharged in December and able to spend Christmas at home in Southwater.

Now, she has set herself an epic challenge to raise money for Beat, a charity dedicated to beating eating disorders.

Kerry is admirably open and honest about a time in her life that she never thought would happen.

“Over the last year I noticed I was having problems with eating - it was due to the stress of university and striving to get a first which became my main priority,” she says.

“I thought I was in control but I clearly wasn’t.

“During Easter last year I came home and my parents were concerned that I had lost a bit too much, and I agreed with them.

“Slowly but surely, it spiralled out of control and I ended up in a very bad place.

“You never think it would happen to yourself.”

Kerry admits she became a ‘recluse’ in her final months at university, as she exercised to cope with the stress of achieving the grade she desired.

She was eventually admitted to hospital in Kent by the Severe Eating Disorders Consultation and Assessment Service - a group that she now acknowledges saved her life.

She says: “It was a horrible experience but if I wasn’t given that opportunity (to go to hospital) I wouldn’t be here today because I couldn’t do it by myself.”

The severity of her condition meant she only confided in her closest friends.

She never mentions an exact weight for how low she dropped, describing it only as ‘scary’.

“My family have been amazing, and those of my friends that knew have as well.

“The people that were there were incredible and I couldn’t ask for a better support network.

“It’s all-consuming and isolating. On the outside people might think I am all right but I still battle on a day to day basis and I still have a mental illness.”

Anorexia may be ‘isolating’, but Kerry is far from alone. Around 1.6m people in the UK are affected by eating disorders.

Beat is the only nationwide charity supporting people like Kerry and their families - and it has inspired Kerry to raise money for Beat by trekking the Great Wall of China this September.

The gruelling physical challenge comprises of between 23 and 32 hours’ walking over six days. For somebody suffering from an eating disorder, the task is even greater.

“I guess I wanted a challenge!” Kerry says with a laugh.

“I wanted to bring light to eating disorders and mental illness because it is such a taboo subject, which I definitely found.

“I want to give back to something which is obviously really close to my heart and has affected me and everyone around me.

“Beat is an amazing charity. It is something good to aim for in September, good motivation.”

As the interview ends, and Kerry worries about having her photograph taken, we talk about people suffering with eating disorders. I ask what advice she would give somebody who could find themselves in the same position as her.

She pauses - for a long time, staring at nothing in particular. It is clear how much it means for her to find the right words.

Eventually she speaks, tentatively and slowly at first.

“People aren’t defined by the numbers on a scale, and no one judges you because of that.

“There are people out there that can help and they can catch it before it’s too late.”

Kerry is hoping to raise more than £3,000 by taking part in the China Trek. To sponsor her, click here.