A FORMER anorexic who conquered the disease by becoming a champion body builder has won a national award for her achievement.
Mother-of-four Jenny Cornelius began starving herself and getting through a bottle of laxatives a day after ballooning during her first pregnancy with daughter Emily.
She plunged to just six-and-a-half stone – and a size six – and wore her little girl’s clothes after being overwhelmed by the eating disorder for 20 years.
It was only when her husband David, 42, died of bowel cancer and heavy smoker Jenny began coughing up blood that she vowed to quit cigarettes, and get fit.
Within eight months of joining Sovereign Harbour’s Fitness First gym, she won the Kent Klassic Women’s Physique body building competition after battling her eating disorder.
And now receptionist Jenny, of Phoenix Drive, has been named winner for the sport category of the Fitness First New You Achievement Awards.
Jenny said, “It’s incredible and I can’t actually believe I’ve won. I’m thrilled.
“But actually getting on stage in a bikini for that first body building competition was the biggest achievement for me.
“I’d hated my body for so long and has been revolted by the way I looked so it was a monumental thing for me to step on stage.
“There were hundreds of people in the audience all staring at me, and for the first time I know I looked healthy and in good physical shape. I won, but I wouldn’t have cared if I’d come last.
“It wasn’t about winning, it was all about conquering my anorexia, and feeling happy for the first time in my own skin. Nothing can top that.”
Jenny first began dieting after putting on six-and-a-half stone during her first pregnancy at 19.
She said, “I really did eat for two, and felt repulsed afterwards by my body.
“I was huge, a size 18, and had bright red stretch marks.
“I was determined to get back down to my normal weight so stopped eating.
“I lived on tea and coffee and cigarettes. I loved shrinking back down to a size six.
“Feeling hungry made me happy because it meant I was back in control of my body.
“If I did have to eat in front of other people I used laxatives, and was soon getting through a bottle a day.”
Jenny forced herself to eat while expecting her other children Spencer, 17, Christopher, 15, and Codie, 11, then starve again the moment she gave birth.
Even when single mum Jenny met and married David she still had body issues.
“He never saw me naked and I didn’t ever wear a bikini or skimpy clothes. I was repulsed by myself,’ she said.
“We never talked about my eating disorder but it was obvious I wasn’t healthily.
“I would just play with my food and not eat for two days at a time.
“When I became so hungry I would eat a Mars bar for a quick fix followed by laxatives and more cigarettes.”
After David was diagnosed with bowel cancer, Jenny ate even less.
“He was dying and was just skin and bone, and I would be starving myself.
“I’d leave the hospital and have a cigarette to deal with the stress.”
She ignored her asthma after David’s death, but had to take action after she began coughing up fresh blood from smoking 20 cigarettes a day.
“I thought, ‘That’s it. ‘I’m going to get fit’.
“So, I joined the gym the next day and began running on the treadmill. I haven’t had a cigarette since.
“I just ran and ran, it was my way of coping with everything.”
Jenny fell in love with personal trainer and former champion body builder Roy Mclean, who took her to watch a competition.
She said, “I saw these women and thought: ‘I want to look like that.’ They had the perfect body, and were healthy too.”
Determined to add definition to her petite frame, Jenny started following Roy’s body building diet – which meant eating steamed chicken and rice every three hours.
She said, “I couldn’t stay anorexic if I wanted to compete.
“It was hard at first because I wasn’t used to eating at all, but I forced myself to do it.
“I did cardio and body training for two hours a day, and liked seeing the new me. I was lean and defined, but not bulky.
“I only put on half a stone but looked completely different. It was amazing.
“I had to order a bikini after entering my first competition and when it arrived I couldn’t stop laughing.
“It was tiny. I’d have to show nearly everything off in it on stage, and I didn’t know if I’d have the confidence.
“I stood on the side of the stage thinking about running away.
“But when I stepped out in front of the judges, I forget about everything and enjoyed myself.
“It was the best feeling ever. I haven’t looked back.”
Jenny is now looking forward to competing in the natural body building competitions this summer for petite women.
“Body building has changed my life as well as my body,” she smiled.
“I don’t say I’m cured because I don’t want to tempt fate.
“I always say I’m a recovering anorexic, but I’m happy and healthy for the first time in my life.”