Women who recovered from eating disorders launch new charity

Debbie Howard as a young gymnast
Debbie Howard as a young gymnast

Two north Down women whose lives have been blighted by serious eating disorders, will tomorrow launch a charity which aims to educate parents and carers how to cope with the illness.

Debbie Howard, 31, and Tori Shaw, 25, and their families will launch charity CARED - Caring About Recovery from Eating Disorders - at Stormont in a bid to bring necessary resources and training to aid recovery over from the mainland.

Debbie, who suffered from anorexia from age 12-years until her mid twenties - said they hope to introduce the New Maudsley Method to Northern Ireland, a technique which has been used to support families for more than 20 years in England.

“By introducing parents and carers to the New Maudsley Method, they will overcome the feeling of exclusion and helplessness and be able to actively work with their loved ones to promote a more complete recovery,” said Debbie.

“Resourcing and educating parents has the potential to save the health service money by reducing hospital admissions and promoting a more holistic approach to recovery.”

She explained that her parents “went through a terrible time trying to get support and help for me”.

“At my lowest I was five and a half stone,” she said. “I refused to allow anyone to weigh me because I felt fat and thought I looked fat. I remember sitting with my therapist explaining how I saw myself as someone really fat and horrible and lumpy and pudgy. It is such a distortion. It is a cruel horrible illness.”

She said her illness first became apparent around four years after it started.

“It started for me when I was 12 or 13 when I decided not to eat crisps or sweets,” she said. “I was a gymnast at the time and a lot of how we were judged was based on how we looked. It stayed hidden while I did gymnastics and only came out when I gave gymnastics up at 16-years. My mum and dad took me to the doctor and I received therapy, but it was pretty appalling and I didn’t keep with it. I didn’t get help again until I was 22 and living in London, I told my mum and she accessed somewhere for me to go and I was there for four years. Half way through I moved home and the trust continued to pay for me to receive my sessions. I stopped going there when I was 26. And now I am fully recovered and working as a therapist myself. I believe that therapist saved my life.”

Debbie added that Tori was treated through the New Maudsley Method in a London hospital where “her family were taught the skills they needed to promote recovery”.