'My intuition told me something was wrong': three women denied help for their eating disorders

As a personal trainer, Chloe Hodgkinson was considered the epitome of good health but when she came off the contraceptive pill, her period stopped.

Months passed and, despite her doctor saying it was normal for menstruation not to return immediately, Hodgkinson, 25, could not shake the feeling that something more was going on. “I told the doctor that I think I undereat and have a weird thought process with food,” she said. However, she said that because her body mass index (BMI) was not low she was not taken seriously.

Finally, she went to a dietician specialising in eating disorders. She was told she had no oestrogen, something the doctors had not noticed. She changed the way she approached exercise and eating, and she regained her period.

Hodgkinson’s experience is not uncommon. An expert briefing paper shared with the Department of Health and seen by the Guardian includes a plethora of stories of young women and men turned away from services because they were deemed not underweight enough.

“I thought I had a problem but the whole family thought I was the healthy and fit one,” Hodgkinson said, adding that eating disorders do not all look the same. She now exercises less and has increased her carbohydrate and calorie intake. “I now have it [my period] regularly again. It has been for three months. A lot of that comes down to really working on my mindset and meditation but no medical help.”

Allie, 28, was confronted with a similar response when she sought medical support for her eating disorder. She was told her weight needed to drop to eight stone before she could seek help.

Her GP had referred her for a mental health assessment, which took 20 minutes rather than the allotted hour. “He was very rude to me and looked at my notes from 2007 where I attempted suicide and blamed my loss of appetite on depression because, to him, I was four stone overweight to have an eating disorder,” she said.

Allie says if it was not for the support of an eating disorder charity she would have probably taken her own life.

Another young woman, Helen, recounts losing weight very quickly last year. “My mum insisted on taking me to the GP when I was at my lowest weight … His response was that I ‘obviously wasn’t fat’ and that ‘if I got below a certain BMI they could consider help from a dietician’ but because I was above BMI 18.5 I wasn’t at risk and he certainly didn’t think I had an eating disorder.”

Helen was told to rely on family and friends for support. “I felt like I wasn’t ‘ill enough’ and I was just spurred on to lose more weight.”

Hodgkinson believes she was lucky to be in a position where she researched what could be going on with her body so she could “heal”. “So many people are in denial and they may have a problem or don’t even know it and they go to a doctor and are told they are fine and they can carry on. The doctor said I am healthy so that is all right but my intuition told me something was wrong.”

Some names have been changed.

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here.

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