Life Hurts by Dr Elizabeth McNaught

Keep The Faith Magazine article around Life Hurts book

“You’re not going anywhere. Your heart is struggling. You’re not stable enough to move.”

I hadn’t believed much of what the doctors had told me for months, but somehow this felt different. They told me I could die… and I was only 14 years old.

I guess it all began that day I broke my leg. I wasn’t really concentrating as I approached the jump. It wasn’t even particularly big; I had jumped much higher poles. But the horse sensed that I wasn’t really serious. He refused, and I fell.

My school wouldn’t let me attend while on crutches, so for the next three months I sat at home. I took comfort in food. And the more I ate, the more I wanted. As I ate I read magazines with photos of slim, attractive, celebrities alongside articles about diets, and the connection was obvious. So I tried them, but the temptation to eat always overtook me, and I felt a failure. Where was my willpower? Where was my self-control?

Eventually I was allowed back to school, and I wasn’t prepared for the comments about my weight. I decided that I must lose weight, and fast. I also asked my parents to move me to a different school where I hoped there would be less bitchiness. I was nervous but excited to start again with a new group of people. Dad drove me to my new school, prayed with me and then left as I was taken to my new tutor group. The teacher welcomed me and, as I took my seat, a boy looked up and said, “Hello, fatty.”

I was devastated. I was even more determined to lose weight. Every day I set myself the challenge of overcoming my hunger, and winning against my Mum’s attempts to give me food. All I wanted to do was to lose weight, whatever the cost.

So, each morning I got up early to get to the breakfast table before anyone else, so that I could take out handfuls of the cereal Mum had put into my bowl and hide it in my dressing-gown pocket to flush down the loo later. At lunchtime, I gave most of my packed lunch to others. In the evening I found excuses to take my food up to my room, telling my parents I had homework to do, but actually I used the opportunity to flush the meal down the toilet.

It wasn’t easy to cope with the hunger pains, but I achieved it. I was in control. Until it moved from a diet to a compulsion – from me controlling my eating, to my eating controlling me. The scales told me I was losing weight, but all I saw was that I was still fat and had to lose more weight.

My Mum and Dad were really worried. Every meal became a battleground, but I usually won. And I remember my Dad saying: “When you win, you lose.” That phrase really stuck with me, but it was some time before I realised how true it was.

One day, I became aware of a pain around my back. Quickly it spread around the front and grew into an excruciating agony. And so it was that I found myself in the hospital with doctors talking about a life-threatening situation. I was scared, really scared.

Dad sat on my hospital bed and read from John’s Gospel: “The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” That night I wrote in my diary: ‘I have to stop otherwise the thief will take over and steal my life. This is not right. Jesus died so that I can live. God and my family love me, and that’s all that matters.’

I subsequently spent many months at an inpatient unit, and years in community care. Through professional help, the support of my loving family and my faith in God, I found the hope and strength to overcome, and secured a place at medical school. I am now telling my story, and reflecting on it from my perspective as a doctor, with a vision that this will inspire and encourage others to see that, although life hurts, there is hope and a future for all of us.

‘Life Hurts: A doctor’s personal journey through anorexia’ by Dr Elizabeth McNaught is published in February 2017 (see

Lizzie wrote this poem in between her emergency admission to general hospital and her time at a long-stay inpatient unit.

I know a girl

 I know a girl

Whose life is a lie

She sets herself targets

Never asks herself why


I know a girl

Who is tired and weak

She stutters and trembles

And struggles to speak


I know a girl

Who hates what she sees

She tries to improve

Is eager to please


I know a girl

Who’s not sure who to be

She’s desperate and lonely

This girl is me








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