Nicola King, 24, Andover, shares her incredible story...
Clicking a selfie in the bathroom mirror, I scrutinised my body.
I must get smaller, I told myself.
It was late 2011, I was 19, 5ft 9in – and I weighed 4st.
You could see every rib, the bumps in my spine. My hips jutted out so much you could see the shape of my pelvis.
I still need to see more bones.
I’d started feeling insecure at 14, counting calories at 16. My size-10 clothes soon became loose.
Even back then, I never once looked in the mirror and thought I was fat. But I was full of anger I couldn’t explain, so desperately unhappy.
My eating disorder was about control, and it soon became full-blown anorexia.
I’d think if I could just get smaller, it’d solve my problems.
My mum Cathy, 55, dad Martin, 60, and sister Corinne, 28, were sick with worry.
As I’d slowly disappeared, I’d been sectioned, force-fed, shipped around eating-disorder clinics.
But nothing and nobody could get me to eat or admit I had a problem.
By the time I hit 4st, I was desperately ill. My periods had stopped, my hair was falling out and I was in agony all the time.
Mum was caring for me at home by then, Dad would carry me upstairs to bed.
Still, I pored over photos of my body wasting away – in competition with myself to be smaller by the next snap.
Yet, the more weight I lost, the more numb I felt. I’d given up, felt mentally and physically dead.
It was like being trapped with an abusive partner – only I was my own abuser.
‘I’m calling an ambulance,’ Mum sobbed one evening in December 2011.
‘No!’ I screamed. ‘I won’t forgive you if you let them take me away again.’
But she had no choice, I was at death’s door.
Rushed to Royal Hampshire County Hospital, I was put in Intensive Care.
My kidneys and liver were failing. But I was still refusing to eat, pulling my wires out. I was pinned down, force-fed through a tube.
Twice, my family were advised to say their goodbyes.
Miraculously, after being heavily sedated for three weeks, I pulled through.
After six months in The Priory in Southampton, under section, I discharged myself in June 2012.
I was still desperately ill, suffering suicidal thoughts.
By the end of the year, doctors were threatening me with hospital again.
‘No,’ I sobbed to Mum. ‘I’d rather die.’
But I knew that was likely if I didn’t do something.
I felt I was constantly being judged, so made a drastic decision.
‘I’m going to Mexico,’ I said.
I’d always wanted to visit, and needed to get away.
‘You might not survive the flight,’ my doctor warned. My body was that weak.
Mum and Dad were terrified – but, in the end, agreed. I was an adult. They couldn’t stop me.
It was a risk-it-all decision, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it’s stay and die, or leave and have one last chance, I thought.
So, in April 2013, I jetted off. The moment I stepped on the plane, it felt like an enormous relief.
I spent my days sitting by the pool, wrote a diary, watched families having fun.
I could be like them. It gave me the will to live.
Mum and Dad paid for me to swim with dolphins – it was very therapeutic.
‘You sound like you’re getting your spirit back,’ Mum said when I called home.
After six weeks, I travelled to Florida for a month.
I started eating again. Still counting calories – but now to make sure I was eating a little more every day.
By the time I returned home in June 2013, I felt more human.
It was still a long recovery. I spent a year in Greece, six months in Cornwall, moved to Hartford, England, for a few months, spent four months in Ireland.
In Hartford, I hit the gym, got a personal trainer. I was still very underweight, facing a daily fight.
Then, at the end of 2015, I was introduced to bodybuilding.
Lifting weights gave me focus, a reason to get up each morning. And a reason to eat a balanced diet.
I started feeling strong, healthy – confident even.
Suddenly, instead of protruding bones, I had smooth, toned muscles.
Now, 18 months on, I weigh 8st 13lb, can do dead lifts in the gym.
This April, I even entered a bodybuilding competition.
My family and friends were in the audience as I strutted on stage.And they went really wild when I was crowned champion in the best body transformation category!
I broke down in tears. For the first time ever, I felt proud of myself.
‘We’re so proud of you, too,’ Mum blubbed.
I’m now preparing for my next competition. Looking at the before and after photos still upsets me.
Sometimes I can’t believe I’m still here – never mind a champion bodybuilder. Going from counting calories to lifting weights saved my life.