11:11AM, Friday 02 March 2012
A young woman who overcame her eating disorders has spoken out to help those suffering in silence.
Francesca Carrington Birch said she 'destroyed' many years of her life after developing anorexia aged 13 and bulimia a few years later.
The Ascot Road resident hid and then denied her problem, even when confronted by friends, family, teachers and doctors.
The 21-year-old said: "I became a person I was ashamed of.
"I lied and manipulated people to protect my secret."
After a seven-year struggle she overcame her battle with food and is now a young ambassador for national eating disorder charity B-eat.
At the weekend she organised a rally in Trafalgar Square to mark Eating Disorders Awareness Week.
The theme of this year's event which ran February 20-26 was 'Break the Silence' which prompted Francesca to share her story publicly for the first time.
The former Maidenhead's St Edmund Campion Catholic Primary School pupil said her anorexia was triggered by her perfectionist nature and attention she received after losing her 'puppy fat' during puberty.
She began eating as little as possible by skipping meals and avoided detection by cooking separately from her family or lying about having already eaten.
Her weight plummeted but she covered it up with layers of clothes and remembers wearing two pairs of trousers and a pair of tights to school.
It was two years before her friends noticed something was wrong and told her teachers at Newlands Girls' School.
She had just taken her GCSE's in 2006 when her family took her to independent psychiatric hospital, the Cardinal Clinic, in Windsor.
But Francesca adamantly refused treatment and was discharged.
She gained some weight back but her disorder morphed into bulimia during her A-Level years which involved secret food binges and disappearing after every meal to throw up.
She became isolated, avoided social situations involving food, lost interest in her hobbies and her grades dropped.
She said: "People were aware there was a problem but thought it was under control so let it slip by."
But in June 2009, after her first year of university, she broke down and drove herself to the clinic.
She went through months of intense therapy and in March 2010 was discharged once again.
With doctors prompting she set out on a six month trip around the world and said the break away helped her gain perspective on her life.
She is now half way through the third year of a law degree at the University of Kent and became an ambassador for B-eat in June.
She added:"I'm determined not to go back to what I was like.
"An eating disorder mustn't define you. It's something that can be beaten- it's just a long, hard journey and you have to work for it.
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Police raided addresses in Lillibrooke Crescent, Cox Green, and in Crown Lane, Farnham Royal, at about 7.15am.