Liz Fraser: Confessions of a yummy mummy

Behind the former TV presenter's book about how to be a glamorous mother lies a desperate struggle with bulimia. By Julia Stuart
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The Independent Online

She is the glamorous former TV presenter who has just written a handbook for mothers who want to look gorgeous in the playground. The Yummy Mummy's Survival Guide recommends a pedicure before going into labour, stomach crunches after the birth and Jo Malone linen spray to rid the bedroom of baby smells.

Meeting Liz Fraser, it is clear that the 31-year-old, who has three children aged between two and eight, follows her own dogma. Despite the grey skies, the petite author is wearing a pair of sunglasses on her head, and a sheer floral blouse with stylish jeans. There is not the slightest whiff of baby sick about her, nor any trace of a half-eaten Jammie Dodger in her handbag.

Yet there is a much darker side to Fraser's experience of motherhood than the book's pink gingham cover suggests. During her last two pregnancies, the Cambridge graduate would bend over the toilet and make herself vomit. A bulimic since the age of 15 who has twice contemplated suicide, it was only when she thought she was about to die two years ago that her addiction lost its grip. It is a reality far removed from the myth of the yummy mummy.

"When I look back I feel such regret. I feel sad that I wasted all those years," says Fraser, who had always hated summer as there were so many hours to endure before being able to return to bed. "Now I wake up and I look forward to the day."

It comes as no surprise that Fraser, who has presented Live and Kicking, Holiday 2001 and The Virtual Body for Channel 4, had an unhappy childhood. Her father, an Oxford academic, wasn't around much because of work, and her mother, who is Czech, was left to bring up Fraser and her older brother virtually alone. "I think my baseline as a person is slightly less happy generally than some people are," she admits. "I remember being very lonely as a child. I always felt that the real world was somewhere very hostile, very unwelcoming, and something that I was frightened of, in a way. I used to have terrible nightmares."

Unhappy about her weight at 15, she started secretly throwing up her evening meal. During a miserable gap-year working in Oxford, she started bingeing before vomiting. "It was always comfort food - pasta, doughnuts, bread, biscuits, ice- cream. Your brain starts to go very quickly and your heart beats very fast. I would feel so full that I couldn't breath any more and then I would be sick. Every day I would say to myself that I wouldn't do it again, but I would."

She read psychology and neuroscience at university, believing there was an unspoken acknowledgement in the family that anything else wouldn't be good enough. Her compulsion continued. It wasn't long before she felt suicidal. The one thing she felt she had to live for was her boyfriend, Harry, whom she had told of her problem. Soon she proposed to him and they married when she was 21.

The bingeing and vomiting stopped for 18 months, but returned when their first baby was five months old. "I had to give up my job as a local TV reporter and presenter, which I loved, and the bulimia may also have had something to do with losing that post-baby weight. It was very easy to pop upstairs to be sick, wash your hands, brush your teeth and come down, job done."

Then she became pregnant with her second child, and the vomiting continued, which shocked her. But even so she was unable to stop or, it seems, to find help. She tried counselling, but it didn't work.

"I had a toddler in the house and I'd think: 'God, what if she hears anything?' But I'd just say 'Mummy's just going to the loo very quickly'. It only takes a minute." She looked on the internet to see what harm she might be doing to her unborn child. "The most negative effect for the baby is the worry and the stress," she believes. "They have shown that pregnant women who are stressed or nervous do tend to have slightly more stressed babies." There are, however, more serious implications. Poor diets leave babies at risk of a range of conditions, including spina bifida and cerebral palsy.

She developed postnatal depression, and, feeling suicidal again, was prescribed Prozac for a year. She stopped vomiting while on medication, but started again as soon as she came off it to try for a third baby.

The compulsion stopped in 2004 when her youngest was nine months old. Fraser was in the middle of a binge in the kitchen while the children were in bed and felt so dreadful she thought she was about to die. She has never had the urge to binge or purge since, such was her fear of death.

She now works as a freelance writer, and the family lives in Cambridge. Harry, 33, a software engineer, has been continually supportive. "Everything has just dampened down to this really nice, calm level. I feel so healthy my brain is so clear," she says.

Fraser is convinced there are many other bulimic mothers and believes being open will help them. She wants them to know they are not alone if they hate their children at times. The word "hatred" appears in the book's index. "When they were really tiny I'm sure I must have turned round and said: 'God, I just hate you'. When they are tiny they don't know what you are saying. I'd never say that to a child who was older than one," she says.

Fraser seems unaware of the irony of the tone of her book. She is selling the yummy mummy myth that pushes mothers to aspire to be beautiful and perfect, which inevitably leads to feelings of inadequacy. It is exactly the formula that kept her a prisoner of bulimia for so long. Sometimes she seems to see it, but then she pulls away. She even defends her book's emphasis on appearance.

Fraser suggests the title was a working one, and that it was the publishers that insisted on it. So what sort of mother does she think she is? "I've been a super-duper mother. I'll beat myself up about everything, but not when it comes to motherhood. I am such a good mother. I don't know how that has happened. The nicest thing my mum has said to me is that she had never met as good a mother as me and that I should be proud."

Fraser says that what she likes most about being a mother is not being able to look good while pushing a pram, nor even the great maternity wear that is now available. It is being able to give her children the very thing she lacked. "I love the fact that you can make a child happy," she says.

'The Yummy Mummy's Survival Guide' by Liz Fraser is published by HarperCollins, £12.99

Top Ten Tips: How to be yummy not slummy

1. Keep your nicest clothes and one special bag separate from your 'mummy' life.

2. When you go out put some jeans and a pretty top on.

3. Don't feel bad about feeling bad. Everyone does. It just shows how conscientiously you are treating motherhood.

4. Try to keep a simple make-up and cleansing routine going.

5. Keep all the baby things in pretty, matching storage boxes.

6. If you're likely to do a lot of travelling, get a pram that comes apart easily, or just folds away in one piece.

7. After a long, stressful day, have a soak in a bath, light some candles, pop in some lavender oil and have some pamper-me time.

8. Don't lose weight quickly. This can release toxins, normally stored in your body fat, into your bloodstream, and thence into your milk.

9. Eat dinner with your partner, without the baby, as often as possible.

10. Remember that you are still a woman and never believe that becoming a mother means you should stop wanting to look and feel as a good as you can.