Miss World Singapore finalist used to be 'walking skeleton'
For seven long years, she battled her eating disorder.
Not only did she lose a lot of weight, she lost nearly all her friends and almost her life.
At her lowest, Miss Angeline Yap Siling weighed just 33kg and was, in her mother's words, a walking skeleton.
She mutilated herself and also tried to kill herself.
Only after the death of her friend, who also had anorexia nervosa, did Miss Yap finally decide to turn her life around.
Now weighing a healthy 47kg for her 1.64m frame, the 27-year-old is hoping to win the Miss World Singapore 2014 crown against 19 other finalists next Saturday.
She told The New Paper: "I wanted to join the pageant because I know I have the potential to win and I want to use this as a platform to reach out to young girls with eating disorders."
It started with her relatives jokingly asking if she was eating her sister's food.
Miss Yap, who has an identical twin sister, was always the bigger and taller of the pair growing up.
In Secondary 3, she started comparing her body with those of her sister and her schoolmates in her all-girls school.
"Looking at their bodies, I began to think that I was too fat, not pretty enough and not good enough," she said.
So the 15-year-old started starving herself.
She lost most of her friends in those seven years because she kept to herself and refused to go out with them to avoid having to eat.
She said her friends knew about her condition, but would not talk about it with her.
"I remember the only food I had during those years was whatever my mother gave me," Miss Yap said.
"Even so, if she gave me two slices of bread, I would throw away one and eat the other for the rest of the day. Some days, I would only drink water. "
By the time she was 18, her weight had plummeted to 33kg - just slightly above the allowance for check-in baggage on Singapore Airlines.
She said that living with anorexia had caused her body to "fail".
"Relationships in the family were strained and I was in a very dark and lonely place in my head."
Her dramatic weight loss led to frequent visits to doctors and psychiatrists.
While she was in Anderson Junior College and the National University of Singapore (NUS), where she graduated with a degree in Communications and New Media, she was in and out of the hospital at least three times a year, with each visit lasting almost a month.
She said: "My body was a wreck. I was losing clumps of hair, I missed my menstruation for several years, I felt freezing cold all the time and was wearing long sleeves every day.
"Hair had even started to grow on my back to keep me warm."
The anorexia also took a toll on Ms Yap's mood.
She admitted that she had suicidal thoughts and mutilated herself. She said she swallowed about 30 paracetamol pills in her bedroom at home.
Fortunately, her parents found her in time and rushed her to hospital, where she was put on an intravenous drip.
Her anorexia led to her being alone most of the time.
She said she had very few friends in junior college and university and never stayed in touch with them.
"It's a very lonely disease," she said.
The turning point came when a girl she met in the hospital died. The girl had also had anorexia.
Miss Yap described her friend as "a walking skeleton" who weighed 28kg at 16.
"I remember eating our meals together and doing art and craft lessons. We were very good friends," she said.
"Then I was discharged, and when I went back, my doctor told me that she had died from anorexia. Her body could no longer function and gave up on her.
"He then warned me that if I did not get better, I would end up like her.
"That really woke me up. I was so shocked and scared because I had never felt so close to death."
But her recovery process was an uphill battle.
Initially, when Miss Yap started eating more, she would feel bloated and resorted to forcing herself to vomit.
She said: "It was a very gradual process. You have to be patient. It's not an overnight thing, but a very painful process."
Even today, Miss Yap feels that she needs to tone up and eat more healthy food, but she knows she will never starve herself again.
However, she said that anorexia is a disease "you can never fully recover from".
While preparing for the beauty pageant, she felt the urge to slim down again and had to practise self-control.
She hopes that by joining the pageant, she can encourage girls in similar situations to seek help.
Miss Yap, who is an aspiring actress, said: "I hope to encourage girls not to succumb to societal pressures to be skinny.
"I want them to know that beauty is not defined by your weight or size.
"Most importantly, I want them to believe in a healthy and happy lifestyle instead."
HER MOTHER COULDN'T RECOGNISE HER
Her mother described Miss Angeline Yap's anorexia as "a living nightmare".
Mrs Yap, 59, who declined to give her full name, said: "Even as her mother, I could not recognise her."
She said Miss Yap began to lose weight drastically during the June school holidays when she was in Secondary 3.
"In the first week, I didn't notice anything. By the fourth week, she looked like a walking skeleton. I could not imagine that it was my daughter," she said.
She added that the family had spent about $40,000 on Miss Yap's treatment.
Mrs Yap, who is a teacher, recalled the years as a "very dark period for the entire family", as their relationship was tested.
She said: "She became a very different person. I panicked and was afraid that she would die. I felt frustrated when she threw away the rice I tried to feed her."
Asked how she felt when Miss Yap was in hospital, she said: "Words cannot describe what I felt. I would just cry.
"I love my daughter very much and I'm very glad that she is well now."
ABOUT ANOREXIA NERVOSA
- Intense fear of weight gain or being fat
- Complains about feeling fat despite dramatic weight loss
- Absence of menstruation
- Extreme concern with body weight and shape
- Brittle nails, dry skin
- Hair that thins, breaks or falls out
Source: Health Promotion Board
Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH): 1800 283 7019
SAMH runs a Support for Eating Disorders Singapore group in collaboration with Singapore General Hospital (SGH).
It meets every first Thursday of the month, from 7.15pm to 8.45pm, at SGH's Life Centre.
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800 221 4444
Eating disorder kills 1 in 20 victims
It is a disorder that eats at you in the mind and the body.
Chronic victims of anorexia nervosa, characterised by an intense fear of becoming fat, may even die, doctors told The New Paper.
The mortality rate for anorexia is about 5 per cent, or one in 20 anorexic patients, said psychiatrist Daniel Fung.
"Usually, this is the result of heart failure and other organ failure, but it may also be due to suicide," said the president of the Singapore Association of Mental Health (SAMH).
Anorexia usually hits girls around puberty, Dr Fung said.
Figures from Singapore General Hospital (SGH), which started the Eating Disorder Programme in 2003, show the number of teenagers suffering from anorexia or bulimia to have increased from 75 in 2009 to 95 in 2012.
The number of adult patients went up from 40 in 2008 to 70 in 2012.
"This is partly related to the development of self-identity and how that concept of self is linked to physical appearance," Dr Fung said. "Puberty is when this is important and is also linked to the social milieu in which there may be gender-related stereotypes on what it means to be beautiful."
Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre For Psychological Wellness, said: "There are many societal expectations on women to be slim and you have a lot of those media influences. Many times, it could be a result of classmates teasing them about their weight."
The deliberate starving takes a toll on the body. When the body is malnourished, the heart may stop. In severe cases, the patient may die, Dr Fung said.
Dr Lim added that anorexic patients also stop menstruating, which leads to osteoporosis. As victims have a distorted view of their bodies, both doctors emphasised the role of family and friends to step in to help them.
In local medical journal Annals Academy of Medicine, co-author Dr Lee Huei Yen, the director of the Eating Disorder Programme at SGH, said that since many victims are students, it was important to engage parents and school personnel in prevention efforts.
- FOO JIE YING