Kelly Louise Appleton Credit: Kelly Louise Appleton/SWNS
An anorexic teacher who was “weeks from death” says she is too frightened to eat out after the government forced restaurants to label meals with a calorie count.
Kelly Louise Appleton, 23, branded the new rules a “danger to my recovery” and has started a petition to change the law, which has so far gained over 7,000 signatures.
The primary school teacher once weighed just 35kg (5 stone and 7lb) after lockdown isolation sparked a near-fatal battle with the eating disorder.
During her darkest moments, she forced herself to complete at least 12,000 steps a day while eating “almost nothing”.
And it was only after psychiatrists warned that her organs would fail that Kelly admitted she had a problem, telling her worried mum, “I’m going to die before you.”
Kelly, of Bolton, is now in better health, and says she feels “much better” when she looks at herself in the mirror after seeking the help of anorexia charity Beat.
But a couple of weeks ago, she said she was left crying in a restaurant bathroom after opening a menu to find that each dish also had a description of its calories.
She said: “When I saw the calories on the menu, I went into the toilet, and I ended up crying.
“I had gone out for a meal with my boyfriend, and it just kind of brough back those negative thoughts, and I felt myself almost going backwards.
She added: “I think everybody in recovery struggles to go out as it is, and I think they push themselves to go out and gain that love of food back.
“But if the topic of conversation is now going to be calories and comparing what people are eating, it’s just going to set so many back
“Now I’m scared to go out for meals.”
‘We need to allow a choice’
Kelly said she wasn’t calling for an outright ban on calorie labelling, which came into force in England on Wednesday 6 April.
Instead, she said restaurants could use more innovative ways to display them, which wouldn’t alienate anorexia sufferers.
She explained: “It’s about allowing that choice. There could be a QR code at the bottom that you could scan, and the calories could be there for people who want to see them, so it’s not forced upon you.
“Then people who are classed as obese or who are calorie counting have that option to scan that, but then it’s not put in front of everybody else.
“Restaurants have said about having two menus, but I worry that anorexia sufferers and people who struggle with the calories are going to feel almost ashamed of asking for that other menu.”
Kelly said her “eating control” issues had started during university, where she was diagnosed with anorexia at the age of 19.
A few years later, in 2020, she was classed as clinically vulnerable and had to work from home as a primary school teacher when England locked down.
Kelly said this period of isolation took a particular toll on her mental health and drastically affected her battle with anorexia.
She said: “At that point, nobody knew what was happening with lockdown.
“I was sent home with the view that I would probably be back in a few weeks, and everything would have died down, but it didn’t.
“So, I was at home not eating, really, trying to go on long walks or being in the garden trying to get my steps in ridiculous ways or going on the treadmill.”
In April 2020, Kelly was referred to a psychiatrist following her mum’s intervention, and they then told her that she was actually weeks away from death.
Kelly added: “My mum kind of took me to the doctors and said: ‘Look, somebody needs to do something, my daughter is dying in front of my eyes.’
“They then referred me to a psychiatrist who said, ‘You’ve probably got a couple of weeks to live. Your body is shutting down. Your organs are going into failure.’
“‘They were terrified of the effects and of what Covid would do.
“I just cried to my mum and said, ‘I’m going to die before you!’ and it was at that point that I said to the psychiatrist, ‘I don’t want to be like this anymore’.”
Getting the help she needed
Kelly said she was able to get a handle on her eating disorder over the months that followed under the watchful eye of specialists.
She said: “They had told me, ‘We’re not looking for weight gain, but if there’s any sort of weight loss, then we’ll put you on the ward.’
“That’s how my journey kind of started, and I didn’t lose any weight that week.
“They kept a real track of me for weeks, just making sure I didn’t lose anything, and if I did lose weight, they said: ‘Right, we need you to see a dietitian.’
“I then started to eat more and started to put on weight.”
Kelly is now studying for a master’s degree in psychology and believes more work is needed to address mental health problems arising during the pandemic.
And she has called for more help available for those with an eating disorder before their issue becomes life-threatening.
She said: “The effects of lockdown on me and the children I used to teach are huge.
“People can think, “Oh, I think I’ve put on lockdown weight, I need to go on a diet” – and I think this could really feed into their eating disorders.
“I think now is the time to definitely raise awareness and look out for the signs and triggers in even the youngest of people.”
“Those are the people that need the help – not when they’re at a critical stage.”
“We’re living in a time where there is a glamorisation of diets and diet pills and going to the gym and trying to lose weight.
“It’s huge but it could be fatal to somebody else, so that awareness needs to be there.”
- Support for anyone affected by eating disorders can be found via Beat: you can contact their web chat here or call 0808 801 0677.