Belfast model Samantha's anorexia got so bad she was living on six apples a day
A model and mother-of-two has spoken of her lifelong battle with anorexia.
Samantha Reynolds (23) has been struggling with an eating disorder for almost as long as she can remember, starting in primary school.
As a teenager, she often lived off a diet of just six apples a day and went to great lengths to conceal her size 6 frame.
Despite her ongoing battle, Samantha, from Belfast, has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the potentially deadly eating disorder.
She joined forces with local charity Caring About Recovery from Eating Disorders, and has shared her story in an attempt to help others suffering from the disorder.
The beauty therapist, who specialises in commercial fashion, called for more education for children and said that "not enough was being done" to address the issue in adolescents.
The striking model explained how everything started when she was 10 years old and her older sister went on a diet.
"Something in my head triggered one day saying, 'You're not going to be skinnier or prettier than me', and ever since then it's been like that," she said.
While she was in P6, Samantha cut back on her lunch, eating only a ham sandwich and water, and became more active after school in an attempt to lose weight.
"When I reached secondary school it became worse," she said. Mum would leave for work before I left for school, so I would get a bowl and put some milk and cereal in it to make it look like I had eaten.
"I'd also throw away my lunch and then say I was having dinner at a friend's house.
"In school, I was called celery Sam as that was the only thing I would eat for my lunch.
"I started to faint a lot in school, and a couple of times they had to get an ambulance out to bring me to hospital.
"Then my mum found my lunches in my bag and took me to the doctor. They said I was borderline anorexic but that I wasn't underweight enough."
Samantha's struggle with food continued into her late teens. When she met her partner, they decided to have a baby, but she miscarried several times because she was so thin.
After the birth of her first child, Mea, things started to improve for the model. However, her battle with food again spiralled out of control, and in a plea for help she asked to be referred back to an eating disorder clinic. However, she was once again told that she was not thin enough.
"I lost more weight and even when I was 20 weeks' pregnant with William (her son), you could still see my ribs.
"It's a constant battle with yourself. It's like two voices and the bad one is overpowering.
"There's a stronger voice saying, 'You're ugly and fat and shouldn't be eating this'.
"At times, I would have eaten just six apples every day. I was size 6 but wore size 12 clothes."
Samantha admitted that while she is not yet fully recovered, she now eats better for the sake of her children.
She added: "If I don't eat breakfast, my daughter won't eat. I'm trying to get better for them. I can't physically eat three meals a day, and I have to force myself to eat every day.
"How we treat people with eating disorders needs to improve. If my treatment eased me in with meals and they looked at why I was afraid of food, instead of making me three meals a day, it may have turned out differently.
"I know how lonely and isolating it can be to suffer in silence, and I have seen how it can tear families apart and ruin lives."
To donate to Samantha's Just Giving page where all funds raised go to CARED, log onto http://www.justgiving.com/SamanthasEDA