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Anorexia ended ballet dancer's career

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Dec 4 (Reuters) Sarah Wilkinson, a former ballet dancer, used to lie in bed at night thinking she would die as her body began to consume itself after a diet of black coffee and laxatives left her skeletal and malnourished.

Wilkinson, now 22 and an English literature student at Cambridge University, was 11 when she developed an eating disorder following a failed audition at a ballet school.

She blamed the failure on her weight and decided to diet.

''I started living on a 12-year-old's version of a diet, which was a king-size Mars bar per day - a third for breakfast, a third for lunch and a third for dinner,'' she said.

Her weight plunged.

''I had the nickname 'dead girl' at school and was the only pupil who was allowed to wear trousers because I got so cold that I scared the teachers,'' she said.

Wilkinson's diminishing size gave her confidence at ballet and she started to win competitions.

''I correlated the thinness with success,'' she recalled.

By the time she was 14, Wilkinson had swapped the daily chocolate bar for a bowl of cereal, a salad, or baked beans. Her parents tried to make her eat more but they were caught up in their own problems as their marriage was breaking down.

Within two years, Wilkinson had danced her way into a top ballet school in London to train full time. There she met other girls with eating disorders and her problem worsened.

''I used to go to the gym and do an hour on the treadmill.

Then I did five-to-eight hours of dancing and had nothing all day apart from black coffee and maybe one dried fig,'' she said.

Because of the extra muscle she carried as a dancer, Wilkinson was unable to drop below 43 kilograms, which at 1.68 metres tall was still tiny.

Desperate to be thinner but her body craving food, she started to binge on chocolate, ice-cream and biscuits. Then she would throw up.

The only substances she kept down were sugarless sweets and black coffee, which she washed away with laxatives.

The problem came to a head when Wilkinson was 19. She won a dream scholarship to train as a dancer in Monte Carlo but instead of enjoying her success, she realised that she had to get help or she would die.

Years of abuse had distorted her sodium and potassium levels, causing her heart to race dangerously fast.

''I could not sleep because I thought if I shut my eyes I might die of a heart attack,'' she said.

''Also, my muscles started eating away at themselves. They (were dehydrated and) had run out of any fat so I could see them visibly pulsating when I lay in bed.'' Wilkinson decided to return to England to register as an outpatient at an eating disorder unit in Oxford, where her older sister was also being treated for anorexia.

Slowly she put on weight and after a few months was well enough to return to college. Within two years Wilkinson secured a place to study English literature at Cambridge.

One year on, every day is still a struggle but, with the help of her boyfriend, Wilkinson says she is determined not to miss out on a second chance at life.


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