Food, Body Image and Mental Health: The Truth About Eating Disorders Through The Eyes Of A Model
As a model, your biggest source of confidence and insecurity is often the way you look; it is your source of income, your biggest selling point but also your achilles heel.
Before I started modelling, I was an international sportsman, playing Water Polo for Great Britain. Water Polo is an incredibly intense sport that requires copious amounts of energy; you are burning calories like a machine. I was, at one point, the boy you’d invite round to your house when you needed your leftovers to be finished. I used to eat and eat and eat - I never thought about what was going into my body and the effects it may have; if it was edible, it was going in.
My self confidence and vanity in my own image was unparalleled as I threw myself into the world of modelling; I loved the attention I was getting and felt like I was on Cloud 9 every hour of the week. But as I struggled to get jobs, I began to question myself: What’s wrong with me? Am I not good looking enough? What am I doing wrong? I began to look inward and question myself instead of looking at the wider industry - maybe I wasn’t what they were looking for, and that was something I couldn’t control.
And control is where my problems came. As I joined university, I quit playing Water Polo, I had very little classes to attend to and I was drinking alcohol and partying every night. Food became my source of structure, my source of control and although it had always been one of the biggest pleasures in my life, was turning into a constant battle.
In the first term of university, I did a photoshoot – which caught a huge amount of attention and was met with a wealth of praise. I was sitting at a very healthy weight of 84KG, and was very confident in my own appearance. However, I reduced my body fat to 3% and dropped down to 76KG - far lower then I had been for years. As I changed back to a normal regime of eating, I began to put on weight. The diet I had forced myself onto was so strict and extreme, that the response was like a slingshot, and I panicked as I put on unwanted size.
I began to use food as my something to control, with set meal times and sizes to compensate for the purpose I had been lacking; I weighed my food, I did exercise after every meal to justify what I had eaten and even forced myself to throw up when feeling bloated after heavy meals or nights out. I stopped eating carbs - despite them being the biggest builder of serotonin (the happy chemical in your brain) and even got to a point where I had to go to hospital, as I had overexercised so severely that I was urinating blood.
The strict dieting and the constant comparison to other models fostered an eating disorder to develop. I began to consistently analyse myself for others approval, developing a huge problem with self-image and at times not recognising myself because of my own personal trauma. Instead of feeling self-confident, I was always searching for approval.
But whats it actually like to have an eating disorder? It’s a light switch that never switches off. It’s a constant voice that won’t stop talking in the back of your mind. It’s an anxiety driven control freak that monitors your every move. You constantly assess, analyse, rethink and overthink every calorie that enters your body and the effects it may potentially have. Throwing up to calm your anxiety, checking your abs every time there is a mirror and basing your value on social media likes. You worry about attending social occasions - which often revolve around food and alocohol - incase someone notices your bizarre habits with food. It ruins your life, because theres nothing else you can think about.
About a year down the line, I remember scrolling through YouTube and stumbling across a video of Freddie Flintoff on the Piers Morgan show. Freddie spoke openly and honestly about his struggles with food. Despite having a reputation as a confident lad without a care in the world, he opened up about his battle with bulemia - how the pressure of being in the public eye and the abuse of fans caused him to become so self-conscious of his image that it forged an eating disorder to form. This was not only the first time I’d ever heard a man speak about struggling with image and food, but it also took a huge amount of pressure off my own shoulders. I felt like I could relate to everything that Freddie had said; he gave me a voice that I didn’t have the confidence to say out loud, and gave me an understanding - one that meant I stopped being so hard on myself.
Body image is becoming an increasingly open topic of conversation. I’ve spoken to many male models who lack self confidence, girls with anorexia and men with bulimia who have all had the bravery to speak out despite their times of trouble. And yet despite my own past troubles, experiencing an eating disorder has actually turned out to be one of the best things that happened to me.
I can honestly say my relationship with food is back to its best, and I'm enjoying the balance of life so much more than before. I am more empathetic, understanding and aware of others situations. I realise the relationship between mental health and body image, self confidence and obsession. I have gained an education like no other, and its put me in a much better place now to help myself, and to help others.
Many people don't understand also that models are often than not sadder than the general population - they are in an industry where they are thinking about the way they look all the time; that's often insecurity, and not confidence. They are judged, compared, analysed and broken down. They are seen as boring, nothing but a pretty face and hated by others out of envy. They restrict and analyse their food, which is one of the biggest pleasures in life - it's there to be enjoyed and experimented with. Thankfully, I am a very happy go lucky and optimistic person - but in my times of trouble, I was that sad model.
We need to start being kinder to ourselves about the way that we look. We need to stop judging people based on their appearance, and we need to celebrate our imperfections, differences, shapes and sizes - it's what makes us who we are. We are living in a commerical world where beauty sells; but there is so much more to the concept of the word beauty then what meets the eye - quite literally.
So, be kind to others - you never know what someone is going through. Eating disorders often go unseen when you don't understand them. Don’t be so hard on yourself, and lets celebrate our indifferences and realise our beauty runs further than our external image.