LAURA Langford looks like a happy, healthy, 22-year-old woman.

But in the last 18 months, she has been admitted to hospital eight times because of her ongoing battle with eating disorders.

Now Laura, who lives with her parents in Highcliffe near Christchurch, is on the road to recovery, and keen to help others by raising awareness.

“You can’t tell someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them,” she explains.

“The stereotype of someone with an eating disorder is of an emaciated person, but it is easy to hide. It is not a physical illness it is a psychological illness.”

Laura says she has battled bulimia and anorexia for 10 years.

“I was always a chubby kid but I became very self-aware at 13.

“My relationship with food was affected by my relationships and at around the same time we moved home and I was bullied at school.”

Laura dropped from 13 to nine stone. But it was when she turned 18 that the bulimia really took a hold and she was making herself sick up to 30 times a day.

Her weight plummeted to around six stone and she was forced to quit university twice because of poor health.

In November last year she was under threat of being sectioned and was in hospital for two weeks and then moved to Kimmeridge Court, the NHS Eating Disorder Service at St Ann’s Hospital in Poole for six weeks. Laura still attends the unit four times a week as a day patient, but now she feels there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“They have been brilliant – they have never given up on me. I would have given up on myself ages ago.

“Although it is scary, it’s even scarier thinking that you are going to spend the rest of your life with eating issues.”

Her mother Norma says the staff saved her daughter’s life.

“If it wasn’t for the staff at Bournemouth hospital and at Kimmeridge Court, Laura would not be here now.”

Now Laura is keen to give something back and hopes to work in healthcare as a volunteer.

“I would advise anyone who thinks they are developing an unhealthy relationship with food to speak to their GP.

“Don’t put it off, because the longer you leave it to get help, the longer it takes to recover.”

She adds: “I’m taking each day as it comes. I would say to anyone in a similar situation that there is a hope, so never, ever give up.”

Dr Ciaran Newell, associate nurse director and eating disorder specialist at Dorset Health-Care said: “Eating disorders are complex, life-threatening illnesses that can affect anyone – irrespective of gender, race or social class.”