All her life Anna Ryan has kept to a low-fat diet and exercised regularly so she was baffled as why she piled on the weight -sometimes as much as a stone in one month. Even limiting herself to just 1,200 calories a day did not help and the mystery pounds kept creeping on until she was discovered she suffered from a sleep disorder.
Two years ago, Anna was diagnosed with Sleep Related Eating Disorder (SRED) meaning for the past 20 years she has been getting up in her sleep, walking to the fridge and gorging on the contents. Cheese, chocolate, butter and meat, Anna has no control over what she eats in her unconscious state which means the 42-year-old now weighs nearly 19 stone.
Anna who suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes as a result says: 'My sleep-eating is putting my life at risk. I've tried so many things to stop it, but nothing works. Speaking in Closer magazine Anna continues: 'I first started putting weight on in my early 20s. Until then I'd always weighed 10st. I started being careful with my diet and exercising five times a week, but it didn't make a difference.
'I was convinced there was a problem because I'd wake up feeling exhausted and nauseous, but my doctor couldn't find anything wrong. It was very frustrating. By my late 20s, I was 14st and accepted I was just meant to be bigger.' But the weight did not stop there as the pounds continued to pile up - at one point increasing by three stone in just two months.
Other people thought Anna was lying about what she ate. 'I tried limiting myself to 1,200 calories a day. I'd have cereal for breakfast, a SlimFast milkshake for lunch and a healthy dinner. But still my weight increased'. The cause of the mysterious weight gain was finally revealed in 2007 when Anna woke up one morning to find crumbs in the bed. 'There were broken biscuits in the sheets and all over my face,' she says.
'The kitchen looked like a a bomb had hit it and I realised I must have eaten in my sleep. My husband Kenny found it quite funny but I was terrified - I couldn't remember anything!' Finally after the many years of fluctuating weight Anna went to see sleep specialist Dr Scott Eveloff who diagnosed her with the rare sleep disorder which is said to affect three per cent of the population.
Anna continues: 'It was such a relief to know what was wrong. But it scared me because it was beyond my control.' Looking back to her childhood Anna recalls: 'My parents had caught me sleepwalking a couple of times as a child, but never connected it to my weight problem. I'd notice food would disappear quickly at home, but I assumed Kenny ate it and I never questioned him'.
The extent of Anna's disorder was only revealed when a series of cameras were rigged up at the family home to track Anna's nocturnal activities. Over several nights the cameras filmed Anna making numerous trips to the kitchen where she consumed up to 2,000 calories a night. After watching the footage back in shock Anna says: 'One night I ate a whole packet of cream cakes, but I also ate things I'd never have normally. I don't even like peanut butter, but one night I ate an entire jar.'
Although experts are unclear as to what causes SRED Dr Eveloff believes Anna has been suffering since her early twenties even though husband Kenny, a heavy sleeper, has never been disturbed by his wife's midnight feasts. The doctor suggested a series of preventative measure to curb the binges including sedatives, locks on the doors, eating before bedtime and keeping very little food in the house but nothing seems to work.
'One night I ate a packet of butter covered in ketchup, which made me very ill. I've been put on enough medication to to sedate an elephant, but I still get up and eat. 'I tried locking the bedroom door, but I'd either unlock it or end up hurting myself trying.' Last year, Anna, who is 5ft 3in and a size 16-18, tried new medication that prevented her from sleep walking and the weight fell off but after a few months the effects wore off and she put on the three stone she'd lost.
Anna now weighs 19st but is hoping a new course of medication can put an end to her sleep eating habits. 'Dr Eveloff is trying me on some new medication and, for the last week, I've only been up once, so that's great.' 'I'm desperately worried about the effect my is having having on my health. It gets me down and it's embarrassing too - people don't always believe you, or they think it's funny. But for me, it's been a nightmare.
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