Actress' anorexia ordeal

Isidingo’s Jess Webster is painfully thin. Obsessive dieting and exercising has left her close to a breakdown. And actress Kate Tilley (28), who portrays Jess in the soapie, knows the agony of anorexia. ‘‘I can relate to what Jess is going through,’’ she says, recalling her seven-year battle with the eating disorder from the age of 13.

She was a born performer and confident but things changed when she went to a convent at 13. ‘‘I have a problem with authority. I hated people telling me what to do. Then there were all these rich girls. I started second-guessing myself, thinking I’m not good enough, not pretty enough, not rich enough.’’

Anorexia is not simply about food and eating, Kate says. ‘‘It’s more complicated. It’s about your sense of self-worth and feeling in control.’’ She stopped eating properly and shed weight, even though she was petite.

‘‘When you’re anorexic it makes you feel proud to lose weight but it’s ironic because when people comment on it they’re not saying it in a nice way. So you start being critical of yourself. You feel horrible and want to cover things up. One thing leads to another and it becomes a vicious cycle.’’

Her weight plummeted to 35 kg but she sought professional help only in 2001, in her second year of drama studies at Wits University. Three months at an eating disorder clinic restored her sense of normality.

But anorexia will always be in the background, she says. ‘‘You always need support, whether from a psychologist or dietician, so you don’t relapse. I’m still seeing a therapist.’’

Kate knows people still say she’s skinny. ‘‘But that’s the way I am. It’s my body shape.’’ Now she eats six small meals a day and never skips meals.

Read the full article in the latest issue of YOU.