gemma oaten

Emmerdale's Gemma Oaten reveals 13-year anorexia battle caused heart attack as a teen

The star has opened up about her crippling eating disorder

Gemma Strong

Former Emmerdale actress Gemma Oaten has spoken about her devastating 13-year battle with anorexia, revealing that the eating disorder caused her to have a heart attack in her late teens. The 35-year-old took to the stage this week to deliver a Ted Talk titled The Girl in the Mirror, the Woman on the Screen and Eating Disorders. In it, she discussed the bullying she faced in childhood, and described how she grew to hate the person she saw in her reflection.

Gemma Oaten bravely opened up about her eating disorder during a Ted Talk

"Eating disorders are deadly," Gemma told the audience. "And no one has to die from them but people still do. And people are dying now, because of choices about how physically thin a person needs to be before intervention can be prioritised. Rapid weight loss or weight gain that has no medical cause is an external expression of something that is already there. Something that began before the visible change in weight. Waiting for the weight to change isn't going to stop what is already there…

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"When it comes to eating disorders, the longer we wait the more of a hold it has on a person," she continued. "And the more expensive it's going to be to bring that person back – and I mean expensive in all senses of the word. That heart attack in my late teens was my body failing in the grips of an eating disorder. At 12 years old, a medical assessment pulled me from my home and into a psychiatric unit. I was so weak they had to push me in a wheelchair and I was told if I didn't eat or drink anything in 24 hours I would be dead. At 10 years old, when I first started to withdraw and started eating less, my parents took me to the doctor, who said, 'Don’t worry, she's not low enough in weight to have a problem. It's probably just a phase.'"

Gemma is best known for playing Rachel Breckle in Emmerdale

The star – who portrayed Rachel Breckle in Emmerdale from 2011 until 2015 – went on: "In the grips of that monster for 13 years, the most confusing thing people said to me was 'How can you do this to your poor mum and dad? You're selfish, just eat.' And I didn't. And I wasn't trying to hurt my mum and dad – and I know I did, I know they felt lost and confused, like I felt lost and confused, but this was something else. It was hate, layered on shame, layered on guilt, until I became that disgusting person in the mirror I'd seen as a child."

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