Saturday, 13 February 2016

Cutting eating disorders down to size

London Fashion Week may have major importance on the global style calendar but wherever there are catwalk shows and designer clothes, the size-zero debate is never far behind.

Deryn Green photo
Deryn Green

This year is no exception, especially as the iconic event coincides somewhat uncomfortably with Eating Disorders Awareness Week. But this time the models are hitting the headlines for the right reasons.

Waif-like bodies may not have vanished completely, but there is a deliberate attempt to bring more diversity to the industry with the likes of size-16 supermodel Crystal Renn taking to the runway at the weekend.

At the same time, department store chain Debenhams has announced it is introducing size 16 mannequins to its Oxford Street, London, store – and intends to roll them out further if the feedback is good.

Cumbrian dietician Lorna Harrison, who specialises in eating disorders, hopes the new influx of curvaceous models will help rid the fashion industry of its heroin chic image and give young girls positive icons to look up to.

Her role with the North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust means she sees women and men of all ages suffering from a wide spectrum of eating disorders, ranging from anorexia and bulimia to binge-eating.

And although she is first to admit that the fashion industry can not shoulder all the blame, she believes it can help to tackle the problems by promoting a more healthy body image. “We have to take it into context. There are usually a lot of factors that contribute to an eating disorder, not just this,” she says.

“But I’m all for them using size 14 and size 16 models. These are the most common dress sizes after all and ladies are meant to be curvy, not skeletal.”

Cumbrian glamour model and singer Deryn Green is also backing the use of bigger bodies on the runway having herself felt the pressure to be skinny.

Now 26, the Barbie look-alike from Silloth has been plagued by eating disorders for most of her life. But having finally started to find a way through it, she wants to help prevent others getting stuck in the same cycle of harm.

“I think these models are sending out a wicked message to women and young girls that you don’t have to be a stick,” she says.

For Deryn, her own eating disorders stemmed from the bullying she endured as a child. She suffered a torrent of verbal abuse, being constantly called fat and ugly, and at worst, physical violence that at one point left her in hospital.

This proved the trigger for the insecurities that have dominated her life ever since, causing her to become obsessed with the way she looks and what people think of her. For years she suffered from a combination of anorexia and bulimia as she strove to get the “perfect” body that would make everything all right.

Now, having finally found the courage to confide in her family and seek professional help, she has got one foot on the road to recovery. Although she knows there is a long journey ahead, she is finally beginning to feel strong enough to take it and hopes she can inspire others to do the same.

“To be honest, at first I didn’t want to get help. I didn’t think I had a problem. I didn’t think I was skinny enough to have an eating disorder. Even now I know I still see myself as bigger than I am,” she says.

“My family tried to persuade me, to make me realise the harm I was doing to myself, but even with the most supportive parents in the world, unless you are ready to get help you won’t. But when you are it is out there.”

Lorna, who helps people just like Deryn, says there are many reasons people develop eating disorders but it is often to do with control – trying to use weight to give them a sense of control in the face of other insecurities and like Deryn, to combat the negative comments she has been subjected to by the bullies.

“From a mental health aspect, the individual may be suffering from particular difficulties in their life, they may have low self esteem, anxiety and may feel they have no control of their own life,” says Lorna. “For some people, food becomes a coping mechanism, and not necessarily a deliberate one.”

But for many sufferers, they either do not know they have a problem or if they do, they often feel ashamed and try their best to hide it.

The real worry is that if they don’t get help, anorexia and bulimia can lead to long-term health problems and in extreme cases, even death. This is because, by starving the body of fuel, it starts to use up all of its fat reserves and will quickly become emaciated. Eventually it moves on to the muscles, causing lasting damage which will ultimately, if left to continue, affect the heart.

Frightening as it is, Lorna says help is out there to stop the illness in its tracks and help sufferers to take control of their lives in the right way.

By working closely with mental health professionals, who can tackle the root of the problem, Lorna helps them gradually, over a period of time, rebuild their relationship with food and see nutrition in a positive light. She stressed that the best way to get that dream body is to do it in a healthy way, by eating the right combination of foods and taking regular exercise without going over the top.

She says that one of the problems that remains key in tackling eating disorders is the stigma that surrounds the subject. There are still a lot of misconceptions out there, one of which is that it only affects teenage girls.

In fact Lorna sees a wide spectrum of people, and most recently has seen a rise in the number of adolescent males coming to her for help.

“Yes the majority tend to be younger females but perhaps that is because they tend to get identified more easily,” says Lorna. “Young men do suffer from this condition as well and although the reasons are probably the same, the presentation is slightly different. They tend to be looking for strong, lean, fit bodies but if taken to the extreme they actually weaken their bodies by over-exercising and not eating.”

She also sees a lot more older women than you might imagine, often who have had underlying problems all their lives but never dealt with them.

For Deryn, the model hopes that by tackling the problem now she can eventually come to accept her body and learn to love herself again.

At her worst she was hiding bags of sick from her parents so they wouldn’t know she’d been throwing up and would do anything to conceal her illness. Having taken a step back she can see that after all the bullying, she was desperate for some positive attention and began to use modelling to try and get the approval she was looking for. But having taken that first step towards recovery, she is starting to see, in hindsight, where it all went wrong.

Now she is beginning to make positive changes to her life, having started to see a counsellor and confided in her family. She is also taking a break from her career to be sure she is emotionally ready for it before putting herself back in the spotlight – and that she is doing it for the right reasons.

She admits that a lot of the way she looks is probably down to her longstanding insecurities, but that is something she is dealing with bit by bit with the help of her parents and new boyfriend James, who loves her for who she is on the inside.

“People might look at me and say I’m sending out the wrong message but I’m not saying everyone should look like Barbie, that’s just my personality.”

“I would never judge anyone by the way they look, why would I? I still don’t really like myself but that’s something I have to deal with. What I would say to people is just try to be happy in yourself. Life is too short to judge.”

Deryn hopes she too can become a positive role model and urges anyone who has an eating disorder to search inside themselves and find the courage to get help – before they do permanent damage to their bodies as she fears she has.

  • For more information about eating disorders or if you are worried about a friend or relative visit or call the B-eat helpline on 0845 634 1414.
Have your say

This is my little sister and yes she went through loads but look at her now georgous confident and a great future ahead its her that had to take charge and she knows that i have and still am battling the eating disorder its a hidden secret that is never totally shared the secrets it has is hard enough to cope with and she is on the way to recovery but unfortunately i for one know that it isnt something that will ever go away but its knowing how to deal with it before it ultimately kills you.
Great sis deryn i hope you do well well done your tough side opposite to barbie has helped you through it the key is strenghth to deal woth the disease which is a rot.
carolline Nightingale

Posted by caroline nightingale on 29 March 2010 at 21:58

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