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MANY people will find the pictures here disturbing. They show a once-healthy teenager in the most advanced stage of anorexia nervosa. But they are pictures no parent should ignore.

Ruth Gardner's parents thought she was an ordinary 13-year-old when she first started to lose weight. But over the next three years they watched helplessly as their daughter shrunk to just 3 1/2 st. Today, aged 21, Ruth has brought herself back from the brink and weighs a relatively healthy 8 1/2 st.

To try to prevent other girls succumbing to the disease, Ruth wanted these pictures published. Femail tells her haunting story and offers an in-depth medical insight into a condition that blights so many young lives

WHEN Ruth Gardner walked into St James's Hospital in Leeds made famous by the TV series Jimmy's - the sight of her shocked even the most hardened doctors.

She looked more like the survivor of a Nazi concentration camp than a young woman in the prime of her life. Her legs were like matchsticks, her ribs jutted from her chest and her skin limply enveloped her skeletal frame.

In truth, Ruth was lucky to be alive. Through self-deprivation she had pushed the human body to the limit of endurance.

Today, just eight months later, she is unrecognisable as the same woman.

She has put on 4 1/2 st in weight and her natural, female figure has almost returned.

Thanks to her own courage and determination, and the specialist help of the hospital's Eating Disorders Centre, Ruth is on the way to a full recovery.

Ruth's eating problems began almost a decade ago when she was admitted to the prestigious [pounds sterling]1,400a-term Leeds Girls High School, the region's leading private school for girls. At this stage in her education, she was already showing talent in the classroom and on the sports field.

'I was in the volleyball, hockey and swimming teams. Sport was just something I enjoyed,' she recalled yesterday. But it was difficult being at an all-girls school because it was so competitive.' Surrounded by teenagers from wealthy middle-class families, Ruth found it difficult to cope with a culture in which boys and beauty were an obsession.

'Everyone there was so aware of their appearance. I had developed very early and was very conscious about my body. I remember when I was 13 I decided to give up eating food between meals for Lent.

But I couldn't stop when Lent ended. Instead of cutting down on eating between meals, I just cut out the meals altogether.' By the Easter of 1989, Ruth had become a fully-fledged anorexic.

Her parents Michael, 51, a retired teacher, and Helena, 61, a housewife, encouraged her to eat, without success, and had sleepless nights worrying about what to do. Meanwhile, Ruth's weight obsession took a stranglehold on the life of the whole family.

'I used to weigh myself several times a day after I had something to eat or drink. If I had put on any weight it used to freak me out. It was Mum who first noticed when I started to lose weight and she took me to the doctors.'

With her weight down to 6st she

was referred to the York-based Limetrees centre, a specialist unit for adolescents with eating disorders. She was there at regular intervals for three years and long absences from Leeds Girls High added to the stress.

'I felt I was stupid and reduced my eating still further,' she said.

By the time she was 16, and with the help of the Limetrees centre, Ruth was back to her normal weight of 8st. However, crucially, she did not return home to Roundhay, Leeds, to live with her parents. 'I didn't feel I could cope being with them. I shut them out and felt I was better on my own.' RUTH QUIT school with no qualifications and tried to start an independent life, moving into a flat on her own. But, forced to fend for herself for the first time, her emotional problems began to overwhelm her. …