A devastated mother told how her 21-year-old son died after vicious bullies drove him to bulimia and he lost over 10 STONE in weight.
Tragic Ben Spencer, 21, died at Northampton General Hospital on 24 October last year from cardiac arrest caused by the long term effects of the eating disorder.
His weight had plummeted over the last four years from 18 stones (114kg) to just seven stones six pounds (47kg) at the time of his death, mother Michaela Richen, 44, told how Ben became bulimic after cruel bullies at Cliftonville Middle School, Northampton, teased him about his weight during his early teens.
Shy Ben started to exercise for five hours a day at the age of 17 then load up on sugary snacks and junk food before vomiting to lose weight.
Troubled Ben would spend around £140 a week on takeaway pizzas, fried food and sugary snacks including 20 two-litre bottles of coke to give him energy.
He would put six sugars in his tea and cover his food in salt to make it easier to bring his food back up.
Ben, who was five-feet-eight-inches tall, lost so much weight in 2007 – around four stones – that he was banned from the gym by concerned staff, but he simply moved to another gym.
But despite his massive binges and purges, Ben covered up his rapid weight-loss with baggy tracksuits and repeatedly denied to friends and family that he had an eating disorder.
Just three weeks before Ben was found dead at his Northampton flat, his girlfriend Kattie Nottage, 19, had given birth to Ben’s daughter, Lexi-Jade, now aged nine months.
He had already suffered two cardiac arrests – one and April and a second in July – and had been warned by doctors that another heart attack would kill him unless he started eating.
Full-time mum Michaela, from Northampton, said that she wanted to raise awareness that bulimia could affect men too.
She ”People think that men don’t get bulimia, but they do. I miss him so terribly now – people need to try and get help for the disease as early as they can.
”He was called fat at school and it affected him. When he started exercising it became an obsession and he couldn’t stop.
”He was always a big lad when he was younger, but in the end his legs were like matchsticks and his teeth were rotten.
”I used to hear him vomiting and find cola bottles at the bottom of the toilet but he always denied that he had an eating disorder.
”He wouldn’t ever talk about his problems but he would stand in front of the mirror in his boxers saying he had put on a pound and it would have to come off.
”I tried to help him but he would spend all his money on food, then throw up. In the last year he hardly had any energy at all.
”Ben had just become a dad and he was trying to get better but it had just gone too far – no one could help him anymore.”
Michaela, mum to Ben’s brother Nathan, 17, and step-sister, Molly, nine, said the whole family had been devastated at the cruelness of the bullies that taunted him.
She added: ”He used to come home from school terribly upset. He would say how everyone was calling him names like ‘fat b@stard’ and other sick things.
”His brother would have been able to shake it off, but he became lonely and used to dwell on it. It tore him up inside but they would never leave him alone.”
An inquest at Northampton Coroner’s Court heard on Wednesday that Ben had a traumatic childhood after losing his father to bowel cancer at the age of seven.
He was fostered by his aunt and uncle but suffered another traumatic event when he was viciously attacked at knifepoint when he was 12.
But the effects of his problems only manifested themselves when he developed bulimia at 17-years-old as a way of coping.
Consultant clinical psychologist Sally Savage was treating Ben but he had been cancelling appointments in the months before his death.
At Wednesday’s inquest she said: ”His accommodation was changing very often, he had very little in the way of stability.
”Pushing the boundaries, such as making him an inpatient, would make him feel out of control. He would just leave.”
Ben was an inpatient at The International Eating Disorders Centre, in Aylesbury, Bucks., for 15 days in 2007 but left because he could not cope with being closely monitored to prevent him vomiting.
The inquest heard that despite several attempts to get help for Ben, his brief periods of improvement could not be sustained.
HM Coroner for Northampton, Anne Pember, recorded a verdict of natural causes.
It is estimated that around ten per cent of eating disorders affect men, but that this is widely underdiagnosed due the perceived stigma around the disease.
People with bulimia can often live highly successful and active lives, often making the disease hard to diagnose.
Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott revealed in 2008 that he had battled with bulimia for years without anyone realising.
A spokeswoman for eating disorder Beat said: ”One of the sad things about eating disorders is that they can remain hidden so people struggle to get the support they need.
”It can be incredibly difficult for people to talk about eating disorders because there is still a level of shame associated with them.
”But this is unfair because they are not fashion fads but serious psychological disorders which can devastate the lives of sufferers and their families.”