It is approaching the end of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week in the UK and at WatchFit we have done our bit to shine a light on this serious subject.

In this article we got together two people who know exactly what it is all about to be healthy and fit role models whilst being aware of body consciousness.

The Gladiators

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As TV Gladiators they went into the homes of millions and, away from the TV cameras, they spent much of their time in schools and talking to groups about healthy and active living

Diane ‘Jet’ Youdale and Kate ‘Zodiac’ Staples were amongst the most popular of the original classic Gladiators in the UK when it was the biggest show on TV.

Diane Youdale; “This is a huge topic that strikes so many people yet is still not discussed as much as it should be. We have made strides forwards definitely, but there is much work still to be done”.

Diane is now a practising psychotherapist who works extensively with private clients and also the NHS in the UK.

With her backgrounds in fitness, her huge national exposure and years of high profile fame, and now her work in the therapy field – Diane is well placed to comment on the issues of eating disorders, particularly as she has been there herself…

Gladiators are not immune to eating disorders

“I never made a secret of suffering from bulimia and in fact I used the huge profile generated by Gladiators to speak out about it in the media several times in an effort to bring attention to it.

“I was a GB national gymnast, then a trained dancer at a couple of London’s top academies, after which I was on TV in a small amount of lycra being watched by millions. Now if any combination is going to lead to eating issues, that might just be it!

Eating Disorders_2“It was actually something I suffered between the ages of 14-19. It was a time of growing up, physical changes and self consciousness and other big shifts in my life.”

“I left home at 16 and was suddenly living in London training as a dancer and choreographer. It was a tricky time for me and my issues were all about body image. I wouldn’t eat anything for ages and would then end up so hungry I’d binge. And then at this point it was all about taking laxatives or vomiting. Not a good cycle to be in. Thankfully I conquered the condition when I studied nutrition and the science behind it and learned about what happens to your body when you fuel it with good healthy food.”

Pressure of attention and expectation

“I’ve been a qualified fitness professional for many years as a well as a dance instructor and choreographer, so I’ve always been fit and active and of course that should have been enough. But the pressure of attention and expectation does funny things to people. Perhaps it was only after the gymnastics, after the dance, after Gladiators and after the fitness videos I made…then I could relax, stop performing and know that I wasn’t being watched all the time and I wasn’t ‘on show’.”

“People can find themselves being in the public eye through no fault of their own. They just happen to have an aptitude for something and that leads to public exposure. That can be uncomfortable to most. Despite appearances it was certainly not my natural environment.”

Social media puts people ‘on show’

“Then again with social media now, people are choosing to put themselves out there, giving themselves a platform, actively chasing a following and bringing that pressure to bear on themselves to be on show.”

And being ‘On show’ was a phrase that quickly appeared again as soon as I spoke to Kate Staples – Gladiator ‘Zodiac’ and record breaking GB pole vaulter.

“I never had an eating disorder but I know that I did have less than healthy and rather typical teenage concerns about my body. I thought about it a lot and I would bounce from one so-called diet to another – despite the fact that my natural body shape has always been of the taller and more slender type.

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“What made the difference in my life and snapped me out of this unnecessary calorific concern was discovering sport, athletics particularly.

“Once I did that my focus shifted and my body concerns simply became about training it and looking after it so it would perform as well as it could. Before long I was pioneering pole vaulting for women at elite level and then I was selected to join Gladiators which put me at the heart of the biggest show on TV.

“I know that if I’d remained that girl who always had an eye on the next diet I would absolutely not gone on to achieve what I did and have the life I have had. It’s as simple as that.

Media’s perfect world

“I have three children aged 18, 12 and 6 and you can’t help but be mindful of the media images that are being presented to them at all times. And the rapidly expanding media platforms do have a lot to answer for here. This media is fixated in pedalling an all encompassing ‘celebrity’ culture. Putting people up to shoot them down. The scrutiny is immense even on people who have done little to nothing to warrant genuine attention.

“And in the online virtual friendship world, people become obsessed with it and feel like they have to be posting their every waking thought or image after image after image. As a result they are always ‘on show’. They are creating some kind of alternative universe where they are a living a pop star life of attention. But with this attention comes judgement and this can lead to levels of self awareness and image concern that are just not positive or healthy.”

Hidden imperfections

“The printed media bombards us with physical images of ‘perfection’ whilst neglecting to mention the people in the pictures don’t even look like that themselves – at least not until brilliant hair, make-up, light and photographic experts get hold of them and complete the picture via the magic of photoshop. Trust me…I have had my fair share of media coverage over the years and and I’m well aware of the positives and negatives. I am only thankful that at the height of our media fame it was pretty intense but there was so much less media!”

“Certainly in terms of the younger generation I think they are more resilient towards the issues of eating disorders if they can immerse themselves in hobbies and pursuits that provide different horizon and take them out of themselves”.

Kate Staples has gone on to become a leading trainer, founding a successful Adventure Boot Camp business, co-authoring Burn Fat Fast with Patrick Holford and establishing Daly Thompson Athletics Academies and Aspire to Greatness with double Olympic champion and sporting legend Daly Thompson. Visit her profile page.

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Diane Youdale has worked extensively in TV and radio presenting as well as qualifying and practising as a Psychotherapist. She continues to work as a fitness professional and dance instructor and choreographer. Visit her profile page.

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