Former Emmerdale actress Gemma Oaten has spoken candidly about her 13-year battle with anorexia. The 31-year-old opened up about overcoming the illness ahead of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, discussing the effect it had on herself and her family.
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Gemma Oaten has opened up about overcoming anorexia
Appearing on ITV's Lorraine alongside her mother Marg, Gemma confessed she was emotional looking back at the photos of herself when she was younger – and credited her parents for having helped her through her struggle.
"Yeah I think seeing those pictures – to be honest I haven't seen those in five or six years – and wow, it brings back a lot of memories," she told Fiona Phillips, revealing she first began suffering from anorexia when she was 10 years old. "I was petrified of starting school because I was being bullied. But here I am today and it's down to this wonderful woman, my mum, and my dad who's off camera."
The British beauty explained that she never "really understood" what was happening to her until her parents sat her down and made her realise anorexia had deeply changed her.
"It's such a weird thing to go through at that age because I don't think I really understood where I was at and what was happening, and it wasn't until my mum and dad sat me down and said, 'Gem this isn't you, this isn't the bubbly girl we know'," she said.
She added: "And this is what anorexia and many mental health illnesses do to young children. It strips away the person they once were and it makes them a shell."
Gemma revealed her family helped her to recover
Gemma also confessed that one of her biggest regrets following her experience was the impact her illness had on her family.
"That's one of my biggest heartbreaks and probably why I get upset because of what I put my mum and my dad and my siblings through," she explained. "I think what we want to try and say is that there's a light at the end of the tunnel and people will look at me and mum, and our family unit and see that we went to hell and back but we did it."
Meanwhile Gemma's mother Marg, who has set up an eating disorder helpline, admitted that she was motivated to help others following the "isolation" her family felt when trying to help Gemma.
"I think it's a given that it has a profound psychological effect on anybody who's part of their life and I think for us it was the isolation, and this is where there are so many people who come through the helpline who are carers, who are desperate and they don't know where to turn," she said. "We've been there and I don't think anything can prepare you for ‘your daughter might not make it through this'."