TIPPING the scales at 23 stone, Paul Donald dreamed of losing weight and achieving the perfect figure.
But his bid to get fit – which saw him shed a staggering 16 stone – almost led to his death. Mr Donald, from Gorebridge, turned to weight-loss websites where he was encouraged to continue with his extreme dieting and weight loss programme.
Now, six years on, the 24-year-old has recovered from the illness and yesterday graduated with a degree in music from the University of Aberdeen.
He said he is “lucky to be alive” and blames his descent into anorexia on internet trolls. The former Newbattle High School pupil said: “It was these horrible websites online that say they are just for ‘weight loss’ that really drove me to it.
“People were encouraged to put pictures of themselves on them looking really thin and they’d get loads of compliments. They’re terrible – I would see these pictures of people who were dangerously underweight and think ‘I want to look like that’.
“It wasn’t until I was in hospital that I realised that they were ‘thin-spiration’ sites run by internet trolls.
“I weighed just six-and-a half stone and I was told my vital organs were failing but I still didn’t really believe there was anything wrong.”
Mr Donald’s weight plummeted while he survived on “virtually sugary tea alone” combined with exercising for hours a day. But the tough regime took its toll and he was rushed to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary in October 2010, where doctors diagnosed him with anorexia.
He said: “It was only when doctors told me I had put such a strain on my body that my gall bladder could burst at any moment and kill me, that I realised just how serious it was and that I needed help.
“I was in hospital for about three months but it felt like a lifetime.”
Mr Donald looked for help and support to deal with anorexia, but found that many of the support services he turned to were aimed entirely at women.
He had almost given up hope, when he came across an England-based charity called Men Get Eating Disorders Too.
The charity helped Mr Donald to speak about his experience for the first time on a Channel 4 documentary called Alex Brooker: My Perfect Body which aired in July 2013.
He then founded the Men and Boys Eating and Exercise Disorders Service Scotland, which gained charitable status in October 2013.
Mr Donald said: “I want to be able to help people who have been through what I have. I know where they’ve been and I know how it can feel to be there.
“Dreams really can come true and I am living proof that no matter what happens that if you get back up and fight every time you will succeed.”