Fri. May 24th, 2024

On my 13th birthday, I totally lost it while scarfing down cake

Emily Hudson By Emily Hudson May11,2024
This article mentions eating disorders.
Millie was in primary school when she was weighed and had her body mass index (BMI) charted during a maths lesson. She was called fat by other students and teachers made her feel lazy for not being good at sport.
At 13 years old she was hospitalised for anorexia.
Millie, now 16, explains how her eating disorder developed. Her mother Julie says the way adults address weight and how we praise our children needs to change.

This is the first of SBS’ You & Me series, which tells the same story from the perspectives of two different people.

When did you notice something was going on with Millie?

Julie: For Millie, she’s always been quite exceptional. In kindy, she could already read and write. Whatever she put her mind to, she would just run with it, she had to perfect every single thing she did.
She started high school (in 2020) and we noticed that she was starting to exercise a lot. And she was starting to become quite reclusive. We thought there was something wrong, and we put it down to hormones.

But then we started noticing that she was obviously losing weight. In September 2021, we took a family trip up to Noosa for the school holidays, and I think it was the first time we’d seen Millie without full clothes on in probably a year, and our hearts broke because we realised, holy crap there is something seriously wrong here.

Millie’s bones were protruding, she had hair all over her body, she was a skeleton. We only stayed one night in Noosa and then we checked out and took her straight to the GP, and her heart rate was so low she was at risk of dying. She was rushed straight to emergency, and she was on a feeding tube.
As a parent you just feel so stupid and so naive — how could this have happened right in front of me?
Millie: I think it actually began around eight years old when kids in primary school started calling me fat and commenting on my body because I was a chubby kid.
And then in class, we had a kind of triggering curriculum, I’d say for a kid that was already self-conscious, where we were made to log our weight for a maths activity. And in H/PE (Health and Physical Education) we were fed a lot of diet culture-based learning.

(There were) comments from teachers even about me, about my activity. If I wasn’t keen on participating in sport they would harass me about it, belittle me, claim I was lazy.

A black and white image of a girl wearing a scarf in her hair, posing with her mum

Millie and her mum Julie. Source: Supplied

I was really insecure and ashamed about it. In H/PE I would go to the bathrooms and have extended breaks in there, and hope that I could stay in there until the next class because I didn’t want to face embarrassing myself in front of everyone.

I wasn’t able to run a lap, I wasn’t able to do what other kids could do. I also had asthma. I just wasn’t a sporty kid and I just got completely dragged down for that by certain teachers.

I vividly remember in Year 6 starting to notice that all the girls around me had really toned lean bodies and I still had what I guess you’d call puppy fat and I felt really insecure about it. I started exercising a lot more frequently, and I managed to get healthier, and I should have stopped there.

I just wasn’t a sporty kid and I just got completely dragged down for that by certain teachers.

Millie

When did it start becoming an eating disorder?

Millie: It was around the end of Year 7 and the beginning of Year 8. I had downloaded Instagram with my parents’ permission and had started seeing an influx, especially during COVID-19 quarantine, of weight loss challenges.
Being stuck at home and doing a lot of schooling, I needed something to fixate on. All my life I have always had things that I need to fixate on, which in part is because of my ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). I thought, ‘I want to look the best I’ve ever looked in my life. I want to eat a completely clean diet. I want to cook my own food. I want to cut out sugar’ — stuff like that.

By my 13th birthday, I was crying on the night of my birthday party because I had eaten cake. Eventually, all food was bad.

When did you start thinking it was an issue?

Millie: I didn’t see it as an issue until I had a feeding tube. Until the second that I was in the hospital and they said: “You’re going to need a feeding tube”, it all hit me. At that moment I was like, ‘Oh, this is actually really dangerous.’

(Until that point) I thought: ‘I’m not as bad as those people they talk about who have to go to hospital.’ I was like: ‘That’s not me, I’m just trying to keep my weight off.’ I thought that’s what I had to do because other girls were just naturally like that. I had to starve myself if I wanted to be that way.

By my 13th birthday, I was crying on the night of my birthday party because I had eaten cake. Eventually, all food was bad.

Millie

How did you feel when you heard about Millie’s experiences?

Julie: There’s no words, you just feel very sad, and we felt so guilty that we hadn’t picked up on what had been going on — the turmoil that had been going on in Millie’s mind.

The way she used to speak to us was not Millie, it was definitely anorexia. We started talking to anorexia as a separate entity … because if Millie was really rude or she threw food … we’d have to really calmly say: “That’s not Millie, that’s Rex speaking.”

How did you get through the difficult period after Millie left hospital?

Julie: Still to this day I don’t know how our relationship survived because it was a really terrible time. My wife Lisa took four months off work and she was basically in charge of feeding every day. It was basically 24/7 care for Millie.
Millie did not go to school for a whole term because she needed to be fed eight times a day and we needed to watch her eat.

After we were discharged from hospital there was no help, there’s no Butterfly Foundation (in Queensland) — which supports those affected by eating disorders and body image issues — so we were on our own. We found a private eating disorder psychologist. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going great. We then got into CYMHS, the Child and Youth Mental Health Service, about five months after discharge. They’ve got a huge waiting line to get in. That helped a lot. Now Millie sees a private psychologist who she gets along well with.

When you look back on that time, how do you feel about it?

Julie: It’s taken so much from us as a family. There’s no words to express how it feels to see your child basically fade away in front of your eyes. So for her to have to go through that, and to come out the other side is pretty exceptional. So we just need to keep moving forward.

It’s taken so much from us as a family. There’s no words to express how it feels to see your child basically fade away in front of your eyes.

Julie

What was the hardest part?

Julie: Seeing Millie suffer and Millie not being able to see how fabulous Millie is. That’s the hardest thing.

Financially, that’s something that’s probably catching up with us now. (And) we’ve lost friendships, and Millie’s obviously lost who she thought were her friends at the time.

Why did you lose friends?

Julie: I think because it’s inexplainable, there’s nothing that can compare to it. We’ve got a child who is a skeleton and she will not socialise. You can’t go to a barbecue or you can’t go over to someone’s place for dinner because she will not eat. I think it’s just too confronting for some people.

What helped you change your thoughts and start eating?

Millie: Distraction was a good technique, watching a show or reading a book. Doing anything to take my mind off it. Or trying new foods that I had previously liked and had completely barred for years. It was almost like being reborn.

It was like: ‘I haven’t had a chocolate muffin in two years, and this is what it tastes like.’ It was almost like learning to enjoy food again.

What would you tell your younger self?

Millie: Our bodies are always going to fight to stay in (a condition that) is healthy for them, and if you fight against your body, it’s always going to win. And mine did. And it caused a lot of damage to me.

Focusing on being fit and healthy is so important but it’s when it becomes a hyper fixation that is so dangerous. So I would tell her to just chill out a bit.


A girl stands in a green field overlooking mountains.

Millie pictured from earlier this year. Source: Supplied

What do you think people need to understand about eating disorders?

Millie: I think a lot of the struggle was that people glorify being unhealthily thin. I received a lot of praise around that even when I couldn’t sit down without my butt hurting. I think praising thinness isn’t something that we should do at all.

Julie: The worst thing is the comments that come from adults. I think we, as human beings, need to stop commenting on people’s bodies. Adults would say to Millie: “You’re just blossoming out aren’t you?”, or “I wish I could eat that and still look like you.” The first thing you say about someone is about the physical aspects. Why can’t it be about how kind they are?

I think a lot of the struggle was that people glorify being unhealthily thin. I received a lot of praise around that even when I couldn’t sit down without my butt hurting. I think praising thinness isn’t something that we should do at all.

Millie

What do you wish your mum knew?

Millie: I would say to her: “I’m sorry and it was out of my control for a bit.” I wish people could understand that it’s not a choice, and as much as it hurts the people around you, and you feel like an absolute monster, and you act like a monster most of the time, you do wish to change yourself. No one likes to hurt the people they love, and it hurts you just as much to see yourself in that light.

What do you wish Millie knew?

Julie: How exceptional she is, she’s so incredibly beautiful inside and out. She’s got the most amazing soul, and she’s funny. She’s going to be amazing. And that period of her life is just a blip. She can just live a wonderful, amazing life.
Do you have a story you’d like to share with SBS News? Email 
Readers seeking support for body image concerns and eating disorders can contact Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673 or s. More information is available at .
Readers seeking crisis support can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged up to 25). More information and support with mental health is available at  and on 1300 22 4636.
Emily Hudson

By Emily Hudson

Emily is a talented author who has published several bestselling novels in the mystery genre. With a knack for creating gripping plotlines and intriguing characters, Emily's works have captivated readers worldwide.

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2 thoughts on “On my 13th birthday, I totally lost it while scarfing down cake”
  1. When did Millie start showing signs of her eating disorder? I’m curious how her family initially reacted to her changing behavior and physical appearance.

  2. It’s heartbreaking to hear how early negative body image experiences can lead to such serious consequences like an eating disorder. We need to do better in how we approach conversations about weight and body image with our children.

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