Jodie Kidd’s nine-year-old son Indio pointed to the bowl of spaghetti on the dining table in front of him. “How many calories are in this?” he asked. It was, Jodie says, a wake-up call. “I realized things could get out of hand,” admits the 42-year-old former model.
“Things he’d heard about food at home weren’t healthy, and not because of whatever I’d said. A nine-year-old doesn’t have to worry about calories. If we had a burger and chips, he would ask if it was “a cheat day.” I thought: this has to stop. ‘
The subject of unhealthy attitudes to food is not new to Jodie. At the height of her modeling career, aged just 17, the 6-foot-tall mother of one was cruelly labeled by media critics as a ‘sick giraffe with anorexia’.
Although she was naturally skinny, her extreme thinness at the time was reportedly a result of anxiety that destroyed her appetite: At the age of 19, she quit modeling for eight months, gained weight, and returned to a healthy body size.
Support: Jodie Kidd pictured with her partner Joseph Bates attending the LOVE magazine LFW Party at No. 23 at The Standard in London in February this year
Now juggling a television presenter career running a pub in West Sussex, she looks radiant. She loves food and loves to eat. ‘Everything in the house revolves around the kitchen. I am always cooking, baking, serving or eating. I make the best mashed potatoes, ”she says.
However, the same cannot be said of her partner Joseph Bates, who today admits struggling with an eating disorder since his teens.
Not that Jodie knew this when they met in 2017. She did think it was a bit odd that he wouldn’t touch breakfast and insisted on running ten miles most days. And Joseph considered himself a “healthy man who loves fitness.”
But the warning signs were there: the days of ‘fasting’, his angry refusal to consume anything with carbohydrates in it, his habit of covering his food with chili oil so that he ‘didn’t eat too much’, and his plate in the dishwasher as soon as it was ready to stop one more serving.
It took years for the couple to realize that Joseph’s routine of not eating and then exercising “until I’m drenched with sweat, blurry eyes, and feel like I’m going to throw up” wasn’t normal.
Today, he admits that he is one of a growing number of men with some form of eating disorder, meaning he feels he should purify all food consumed through vigorous physical activity.
Jodie says she confronted her partner after her son Indio started repeating his words.
The 34-year-old former Navy and British Special Forces soldier admits: “It really shocked me. The only way he could have learned about calories and “cheat days” – if you allow yourself a treat, like pizza – is through me. ‘
Jodie says, “Joseph had started commenting on what I was eating — giving me a look at whether I got myself another potato or not going to the gym. But when Indio started talking about “cheat days”, I felt I had to protect him. Joseph needed help. ‘
Until recently, it was thought that men accounted for only one in ten cases of eating disorders. But more recent evidence shows the figure is much higher – about a quarter of the 1.25 million diagnosed patients are male, according to the Beat charity. And this figure represents the tip of the iceberg.
Studies questioning people about their eating and exercise habits suggest that as many as 660,000 men in the UK may suffer from some form of eating disorder.
However, they are more likely to go undiagnosed because the conditions cause distinctly different symptoms in men – far from the distinct anorexia and bulimia we recognize in women.
Jodie photographed on a catwalk at London Fashion Week in 2000. At the age of 19 she quit modeling for eight months, gained weight and returned to a healthy body size
“We need a drastic shake-up of the diagnostic criteria for eating disorders,” said Dr. Christopher Huebel, an eating disorders researcher at King’s College London. It’s normal for men to flush through exercise, or binge-eat to deal with stress, but it’s seen as normal by the friends around them, so they go undiagnosed.
“Men can function on half of women’s body fat, so when they lose weight, it takes longer to affect their hormonal and cognitive systems, leading to physical symptoms, so it’s less obvious.”
This was especially true for Joseph, who has never reached a worryingly low weight. “I’ve lost maybe 7 pounds, but never enough to stand out and I have enough energy to run every day,” he says.
Eating disorders associated with excessive exercise are on the rise, especially in boys.
In 2017, a Home Office crime investigation found that the number of 16- to 24-year-olds taking anabolic steroids – illegal drugs that promote muscle building by increasing the production of the sex hormone testosterone – quadrupled in a year.
If I had five beers I wouldn’t eat, I’d hammer myself into the gym to burn it down
Experts blame the mounting pressure, especially on younger men, to have an athletic physique, as popularized by celebrities, fitness influencers on social media and reality TV shows.
Joseph claims it was “ never about my body, ” but admits that he felt under pressure to get in shape when he joined the Royal Marines at the age of 17.
He says, “I’ve learned that I can push my body to physical extremes while surviving on low calories. I became obsessed with the number of calories I knew my body could live on and I would feel guilty if I ate any of that. ‘
When he was 20, like many of his fellow gym goers, he stopped eating carbohydrates. And soon every bite that he experienced as too much should be ‘disposed of’.
“ If I had five beers I wouldn’t eat to save the calories and then I would get up in the morning and hammer myself into the gym to burn it off. He would have periods of ‘water fasting’ – surviving for days on nothing but water, which he believed the immune system to recover.
Jodie adds, “He went for a run for four miles after not eating for three days and came back gray-faced and as if he was about to fall. But he would say he felt great. I thought you’re lying.
Breaking the Myths: Jodie, with son Indio, and partner Joseph. The former model says she confronted her partner after her son started repeating his words
‘I’d beg him for something to eat. A little bit, maybe a banana. He would bark, “No.” ‘
Joseph says his regime provides order, focus and control over his life. He knows they are unhealthy habits that he would like to change, but it can seem almost impossible.
A growing body of research indicates that eating disorders can lead to physical changes in the brain, making them difficult to overcome. Scientists compare disordered behavior to a steadfast habit that is difficult to break over time.
This theory resonates with Pamela Nugent of the Laurence Trust, a charity that supports men with eating disorders. She launched the organization after her youngest son, Laurence, 24, died of heart complications linked to eight years of bulimia.
“I’ve always thought of it as disordered thinking, rather than disordered eating,” says Pamela. Laurence was bullied as a youth and found that exercising and controlling his eating was a way to cope when he felt out of control. Then it became an obsession. The chemicals in his brain had changed. ‘
In addition to self-induced vomiting, Laurence exercised excessively to control his caloric intake. “He went from soccer practice a few times a week to stay fit, to the gym every day, and then played soccer twice a week,” says Pam. She has noticed a trend among those who contact her. ‘They don’t purify by being sick, but by exercising. One told me to spend hours in the gym and go for a bike ride to burn a packet of cookies, but that was all he had eaten that day. Men don’t tell anyone – they think they have to be strong. ‘
It is this myth that Jodie and Joseph are trying to break through by speaking out. He is working with psychologist Dr. Julie Smith to develop an online therapy platform (get project.com) to help others in need of mental health care.
He says: “I assumed that people with eating disorders vomit everything, eat nothing or eat way too much. I didn’t fall into any of those categories, so assumed I was normal for a fit guy. But I’ve been obsessed with calories for 15 years and I think millions of men suffer in silence because they think it’s normal. It’s unhealthy and we have to talk openly because it affects the people around us. ‘