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Kelly Appleton and Lewis Wright

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Student draws on experience of anorexia to pursue career in helping others

March 3, 2023

Edge Hill student Kelly Appleton has turned her experience of anorexia into a passion to help others.

After years of undereating and overexercising Kelly finally opened up to her family when she was 20. An emergency referral to hospital shortly after revealed Kelly weighed just 35kg, her average daily intake was 42 calories and she was doing 12,000 steps a day.

“The doctors said my body was dying, I was basically running on adrenaline,” Kelly said.

The 24-year-old from Bolton is now a much healthier weight and significantly happier in herself, and she is training to be an education mental health practitioner for children and young people.

She is sharing her story for Eating Disorders Awareness Week (27 February – 5 March) to show others they are not alone and help is available.

“Anorexia is not necessarily about food,” she explained. “It’s a way of controlling a life you feel you don’t have control over.

“I’ve always had a rocky relationship with food and the way I look. I always saw myself as the ‘big friend’ even though I wasn’t.

“Growing up was difficult for me. There was no-one promoting body positivity on social media then, it was all about losing weight.”

Kelly Appleton at graduation.

Moving away from Bolton to go to university was a difficult change for “home bird” Kelly and her health deteriorated – her need to take control in a life she found overwhelming resulted in drastic weight loss and in her third year anorexia really took hold.

As a newly qualified teacher, Kelly realised how extreme her condition had become when she started making herself sick and began running laps round her classroom at the end of the day to burn more calories.

Kelly’s boyfriend Lewis Wright begged her to open up to her parents Mick Appleton and Sharon Leeson which she eventually did, but by the time she received medical intervention her body was already starting to shut down.

Soon after, the country went into national lockdown as the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Kelly knew that being confined to a ward with no opportunity to see family would not aid her recovery so she went home with her parents, still working remotely as a teacher.

“I was able to have a lot of bed rest and the support of my parents while I went through what they call re-feeding to get my weight up.

“Now I still have tough days but I’m doing really well. It will always be there but I know my triggers now, I’m talking about how I’m feeling and I’ve found my support systems.

“I went into teaching because I love working with kids and after my experience I’ve decided I want to work specifically in the area of mental health.

“I just want to support young people and their families. I had anxiety and depression when I was younger and I can’t help but wonder if things might have been different for me if I’d had early intervention with those problems.”

Lynsey Roocroft, senior lecturer and programme lead for education mental health practitioners, said: “Kelly’s ability to speak confidently about her experiences and why they had led her to this role was inspirational.

“She has continued to demonstrate this within the classroom and to share her personal experiences in front of 42 other students is something they have all valued, especially as we consider how we are going to work together to support the mental health and wellbeing of young people.”

Kelly is now an advocate for UK eating disorder charity Beat, after drawing comfort from their positive presence on social media during her recovery.

“I want to be that voice for other people who are struggling, or those who want to support a family member.

“We need to remove the stigma around eating disorders and the assumption that they only affect teenage girls. There’s just not enough knowledge out there about it.”

Kelly is hosting a coffee morning this Saturday 4 March, 11am-3pm, at her parents’ kitchen makeover company Dream Doors in Bolton.

To support Kelly in her fundraising for Beat visit donate here.

The PGDip Education Mental Health Practitioner for Children and Young People is one of a variety of courses in the area of mental health taught within the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Medicine.

The role is an innovative and important one in the Government’s Mental Health Support Teams (MHSTs), part of the National Children and Young People’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies initiative.

March 3, 2023


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