A 21-year-old former 2nd row for the Gwent Dragons Ladies Junior team – and now a Miss Wales 2016 finalist – has battled with eating disorders for much of her teenage years.
Kelly Sutherland, from Malpas in Newport, is using the profile of the Miss Wales competition to share her story in a bid to encourage others to seek help if they are struggling with similar issues.
Kelly, who stands at 5’11”, said: “I was always the tallest girl in the form and so as I grew heavier, the weight didn’t really seem to matter. I was tall enough to get away with it. For rugby, it was actually an advantage. Even though, at the age of around 15 at my biggest,
I weighed about 16 stone and was wearing size 20 clothes, I just took it in my stride as the jolly fat girl.
“One day, some friends and I went to the cinema. Quite casually, one of the boys I was with made a really cutting comment about my weight. He said it so loudly that everyone heard. I felt everyone looking at me and was mortified. I burst into tears and rang my dad to pick me up and take me home.”
Kelly describes herself as quite a determined character and there and then decided to do something about losing the weight.
She said: “When I set my mind to something, nothing gets in my way. I was desperate to lose the weight and went to extremes. Within about 10 months I lost about six stone. I kept going and at my lightest I was down to around 7.5 stone. For someone my height, that’s dangerously thin.”
In her rugby team, she was transferred from 2nd row to the backs as she couldn’t take the knocks any more.
Kelly’s weight loss also coincided with becoming a student of Sports Coaching and Education at Gloucestershire University.
Her lack of eating had a very negative impact on both her studies and social life.
She said: “My friends would ask me out, but I’d just say no to avoid having to drink or eat. Then I’d just get lonely because at heart I’m a really sociable girl. It was affecting my studies too. I had no energy for the practicals and even simple things like sitting on the floor between exercises was too painful for me because I had no fat to cushion my bones.
“That said, I felt in control and at that stage in my life being thin was the most important thing. I thought that if I was thin everything else would be ok. If I was thin, I would get a boyfriend. If I was thin I would do well in my exams and so on.”
It was on a weekend back home from University, that Kelly’s mum and dad, Melanie and Karl, sat her down and told her that they were worried about her. The next day they took her to the doctors and she was diagnosed with anorexia.
Kelly said: “Again, as a determined person I was certain that I could overcome it. So I started eating all the things that I had been depriving myself of including chocolate, pasta and bread. The problem was I overdid it. I was binging and then out of guilt I got in to the habit of throwing up just after. Sometimes I would make myself sick three times a day.
“To be bulimic you have to be very clever. You need to be secretive and sneaky to hide it from everyone around you. I would eat and then half an hour later (not just after the meal because that would be obvious) when I knew the food was still in my stomach I would tell my mum I was having a shower. Then I would run the shower and be sick so she couldn’t hear the retching. It got to the point that I was bringing up blood from forcing myself so much.”
Kelly’s mum Melanie (who Kelly describes as her rock) soon cottoned on to what her daughter was doing and would bang on the bathroom door to make her come out.
Kelly said: “At times I just wanted to throttle my mum! But now I honestly don’t think I’d still be here without her. She took me back to the doctors and I started having counselling for the bulimia. This was the turning point for me. I felt so guilty about everything and knew I had to make a real change.”
Kelly can’t speak highly enough of the counselling team who helped her around this time. Keeping a food diary has helped, creating distractions just after eating a meal so she doesn’t focus on the food she has just eaten and being taught how to think logically about food have all been tools in her journey.
Kelly now weighs in at around 10.5 stone and wears size 10 clothes. After the four years of anorexia followed by bulimia, Kelly feels better than ever – more confident, more energetic and generally happier.
So much so that she took the decision to apply for the Miss Wales 2016 competition and will take part in the finals in April.
Kelly added: “Miss Wales is all about Beauty With A Purpose. That means a lot of fundraising for children’s charities but for me personally it means that I can share my story. I want to use this platform to encourage other young people – boys and girls – not to suffer in silence. Eating disorders are a real illness and nothing for anyone to feel ashamed of or guilty about. If anyone wants to reach out to me for help or advice, I am here.”