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‘I kept telling myself that this doesn’t happen to lads’

It is Health Season in The Irish Times. In print and online, we will be offering encouragement and inspiration to help us all improve our physical and mental health in 2022. See

While eating disorders are often associated with girls and women, the reality is that an eating disorder can affect anyone. Accepting there’s an issue and seeking help, however, can prove more challenging for boys and men, particularly when coping with the stigma.

Podcaster Keith Russell says it was only when he enrolled in lifesaving classes as a teen, that he began to become very self-aware about how he looked.

“The lifesaving classes – you’re getting in and out of the water and you’re standing on the side of the pool,” he explains. “The guys couldn’t wear shorts. The guys could only wear speedos, that’s what we were told, and I just wasn’t comfortable. I started to get very anxious about being there. I’d be nearly worrying about it all week long. As the years went on, I just got worse and worse and I’d go home crying in the evening and the anxiety just turned into depression.

I would put on a few stone by emotional eating and then I would feel even worse. So I would start trying to restrict the food and start killing myself on the treadmill

“I started to not like myself and this is where the food stuff started. I felt I had this spare tyre around my waist and it probably wasn’t even much, but I felt it was there. I started to tell myself all these things I didn’t like about myself. I didn’t like my wrists. I didn’t like my jawline. I didn’t like my hairline. I didn’t like my stomach. I didn’t like my shoulders.”

Keith sought counselling for depression, but never “really linked anything together”.

“When I was in counselling for depression we never spoke about stuff like that. Because you’re a guy, you just get on with things and sweep things under the rug. Things just got worse and worse. Because I couldn’t change my jawline, or the birthmark on my ear, I started to really focus on the things I could change – the spare tyre around my waist.”

Keith’s self-consciousness meant he found working out at the gym very stressful and felt worse after than before. “I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere and that’s when the food stuff started. I restricted food a little bit but for me it was more the binge eating. Because I was feeling so bad about myself I would just turn to food, so my weight would balloon up and down. I would put on a few stone by emotional eating and then I would feel even worse. So I would start trying to restrict the food and start killing myself on the treadmill.”

It was only last year, when Keith discovered the term body dysmorphia, that he realised he’d been living with the condition for more than 20 years.

Keith Russell: ‘It’s a daily struggle with me. Body dysmorphia has stopped me doing everything’
Keith Russell: ‘It’s a daily struggle with me. Body dysmorphia has stopped me doing everything’

Lockdown was incredibly challenging and he started to blog about his experiences and feelings to help him cope. Others who had experienced the same thing began to contact him, ultimately leading to Keith raising the issues of body dysmorphia and eating disorders with his therapist.

Having only sought support for his eating disorder in the past year, Keith says he’s still trying to come to terms with it all. “Because the waiting lists are so long, I haven’t really had any help, so I’ve had to pay for things myself. But because they’re so expensive I’ve been restricted in what help I got. I’ve got three small kids, I don’t have the funds to pay for everything myself all the time.

“It’s a daily struggle with me. Body dysmorphia has stopped me doing everything. It’s stopped me going out with my friends . . . recently I didn’t want to go bowling because I didn’t want to lean forward to throw the ball down the lane. I don’t like bringing my kids to swimming in case I have to get in. I don’t want to be on show. It has stopped me doing so many things, I’ve lost so many years of my life, so many memories that I could have made.”

In spite of the daily struggle, Keith says he’s doing much better than he was. His wife, Karina, who he hid his eating disorder from for a long time has been his “rock”.

“She’s a great sounding board and she looked after me. She’s been absolutely amazing and I wouldn’t be here without her.”

Ellen Jennings, communications officer at Bodywhys – the national voluntary organisation supporting people with eating disorders and their families – says an eating disorder can affect anyone at any stage, but for men there’s a stigma around eating disorders being a female issue, and that results in a double stigma.

“Eating disorders in men are underdiagnosed and undertreated and it can take them longer to recognise there’s a problem. And when there’s a delay, the issue can become more entrenched. More men come forward at a stage where they’re so physically unwell that they might require more intense treatment.

The media and social media have to take responsibility for what they’re putting out there

“From March to September 2020, 40 per cent of hospital admissions for eating disorders were male,” Ellen says. “The pandemic, that’s really the epitome of things being out of control – that uncertainty, the loss of routine and the usual coping methods that people had were all taken away by the pandemic and being thrust into that online environment.”

The media and social media have to take responsibility for “what they’re putting out there”, Ellen says, but cautions that the causes of eating disorders “are multiple and complex”.

For those concerned they may have an eating disorder, or for family and friends who may be concerned a loved one has an eating disorder, Ellen advises remembering to “distinguish the person from the eating disorder. Listen to their feelings without judgement. The first step is to try and open up about it, to try and have a conversation about it. And from there, if the person was comfortable to go and speak to the GP, who would then be able to refer in to a multidisciplinary team.”

Cormac Ryan.
Cormac Ryan.

Cormac Ryan was just 18 and playing minor hurling with Dublin when he began to experience episodes of dizziness, chest pain and breathlessness on the hurling pitch. He spent two weeks in coronary care, had a pacemaker fitted and was warned that he might not play hurling or football again.

“My mood really went low and I really struggled with it. Because my mood got quite low and I was quite depressed, without realising I put on a bit of weight. Nothing crazy by any means, but I did put on a bit of weight. I didn’t really take much heed of it. At that age, I had no awareness of what I looked like or what I ate. I was a stereotypical 18-year-old Irish lad, eating whatever he fancied and didn’t think anything of it.”

I found it very hard not to be aware of what everyone else looked like in the dressing room and again I just became more paranoid about it

A year later, Cormac resumed playing. “That’s when my awareness was first drawn to it. Small comments here and there from people at training and the GAA team – stupid stuff like ‘you’ve put on a bit of timber’ or ‘you need to do a bit of extra running now’, ‘that jersey’s a bit tighter on you there’. Water off a duck’s back for most people but, for whatever reason, whether it was just I was that bit more vulnerable mentally, they just stuck. And I just became really paranoid about my physical appearance, particularly when I was playing.”

When Cormac began playing for Dublin at under-21 level he became even more focused on his appearance. “Going back into an environment like that where it’s an elite sporting level, I found it very hard not to be aware of what everyone else looked like in the dressing room and again I just became more paranoid about it.”

The progression to an eating disorder was gradual, he explains. “I was the classic case of the one who falls into a bit of diet culture, bit of gym culture and a bit of fitness culture and then ends up over a gradual period of time with a full blown eating disorder.”

“I was doing the stuff you hear a million people doing in January: ‘low carb day today’, not having as many carbohydrates. Cutting out the sweets, having a protein bar instead . . . I was doing all that stuff, doing a bit more running, getting up early to go to the gym before college or work.”

Cormac says he eventually became “completely obsessive”.

Cormac Ryan: ‘I actually ended up in Lois Bridge’s treatment centre for two months’
Cormac Ryan: ‘I actually ended up in Lois Bridge’s treatment centre for two months’

“If it wasn’t ‘healthy food’ I wouldn’t eat it. I wouldn’t touch sugar. I’d find I’d get a bit anxious if I was in someone’s house and they’d offer me a bar of chocolate or a biscuit.”

By 2020 and 2021, things completely spiralled. “I was really becoming distressed. I started cutting out breakfast and then, eventually, I cut out breakfast and lunch and then I was only eating dinner, and then some days I wouldn’t have dinner. It got to the stage where all I would eat was the same one meal every day. I’d have turkey burgers, a couple of baked potatoes and broccoli – that was all I’d eat. And if I deterred from that, the next morning I’d wake up and I’d have a panic attack.

“There’d be days where I’d try and starve myself and then I started thinking about making myself get sick and that’s when things came to a head. I actually ended up in Lois Bridge’s treatment centre for two months.”

Cormac says he was in complete denial. “The day I went for my assessment in May 2021, it had gotten to the stage where I wasn’t eating, was trying to starve myself, having panic attacks and thinking about making myself get sick and I still didn’t think I had an eating disorder.

“I was in complete denial and that denial was purely driven by the fact that I was male. Completely, 100 per cent. I kept telling myself it can’t be an eating disorder, this doesn’t happen to lads, lads don’t get this problem – and that delayed me getting help probably for two or three years.”

Cormac says he hid his eating disorder from his family. “I was working as a physio. I’d be like, ‘Oh, having breakfast in work’, and I’d tell them I had my lunch in work and I just wouldn’t. I’d come home in the evening and sometimes I’d have a bit of dinner and sometimes I wouldn’t, but I’d be very sly and tactical about it. I might go out for a walk and tell them when I got back, ‘Oh, I was out with the lads and we got food’. No mother or father thinks their 28-year-old son is going to have an eating disorder.”

The voice is still there . . . in certain situations, like going out for dinner, the voice can get a bit louder, but I know how to manage it now

Cormac says he was “terrified” entering the clinic on the first day, but had a very positive experience. “There was seven of us for most of the time, four girls and three lads,” he says, who supported each other, including through meal times. “I had an amazing experience . . . to the point where they massively turned things around for me. To fully recover it can take anywhere from five to seven years. The voice is still there . . . in certain situations, like going out for dinner, the voice can get a bit louder, but I know how to manage it now.

“When things were very bad in March and April [of 2021] 99 per cent of my day was completely consumed by worrying about what I looked like, worrying about what I weighed, worrying about what I’d eat or, more so, worrying about how I could manage to not eat. Now, to be honest, 90-95 per cent of the day, I’m pretty much at peace.”

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Time for a tiki hut? As shops discount summer stock, there’s a garden bar for every budget

Despite the washout weather, garden bars have been this summer’s hot home trend and it’s not too late to join the party.

Online searches for outdoor bars rose by a whopping 358 per cent in June, compared to January, according to Toolstation, while budget homeware shop The Range saw a massive 60 per cent rise in online shoppers checking out its al fresco drinking options this summer.

What’s more, being late to the garden bar party isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Retailers are discounting their summer stock. So before you buy directly from the manufacturer, shop around multiple stockists to find the best discount available.

So, if you fancy pulling a pint from your own backyard pub or shaking a cocktail in the shade of a tiki hut, there’s a garden bar to suit every space and budget.

Join the party: A tiki hut-style garden bar is perfect for friends-round-Friday or a family do

Join the party: A tiki hut-style garden bar is perfect for friends-round-Friday or a family do

Jenny Davis from Forest Garden, suppliers of garden timber goods, says before heading to the garden centre, consider the space you have available first.

‘Smaller areas might seem overwhelmed with the addition of a standalone bar, which is where a fold-down wall-bar comes in handy,’ she said. 

‘A wall-mounted fold-down bar means the smallest of gardens, even balconies, can become a party haven.’ Forest Garden’s fold-down bar costs £189.99 and comes with a fold-away serving table and shelves to store bottles and glasses. 

Online retailer A Place For Everything stocks a more compact wall‑mounted bar at £67.50.

For free-standing bars to fit a modest back garden for less than £400, specialists Dunster offers the Utopia Gable Gazebo Bar at £384.99, which is 2.22m wide and 1.20m deep. 

The Range sells a tiki-style bar in its Marbella collection for £239.99, complete with straw roof and two bar stools, which is half the size.

To build your bar atmosphere, it could be placed in front of a high wall or sturdy fence, giving you the option to put shelves up for your spirits and accessories.

 When the winter months draw in, replace the fridge with a lined box for blankets and cushions to keep you cosy, and install a fire pit or outdoor heater to stay warm while you entertain outdoors

Interior designer Siobhan Murphy recommends creating an eye-catching rainbow effect and to group together the colours of your spirits, mixers and glassware. 

She says: ‘Invite nature to your garden bar by installing hanging planters, or create a vertical garden backdrop using wooden pallets for an organic feel. 

Oversized potted plants can add a touch of luxury, and unique planters like repurposed teapots will amp up the quirkiness.’

If you’re looking for an enclosed bartending space, you’ll have to spend a bit more. But it does mean you can use your bar for storage in the winter by shutting up the serving hatches. 

Forest Garden’s Shiplap Pent Garden Bar at £729.99, or £1,039.99 with installation, is weatherproof and lockable so you can keep a fridge to store spirits in overnight.

When the winter months draw in, replace the fridge with a lined box for blankets and cushions to keep you cosy, and install a fire pit or outdoor heater, at a safe distance, to stay warm while you entertain outdoors.

Garden bars are designed with DIY-ers in mind. But if you’re not handy with a hammer, many companies offer an installation service costing £200 to £300 extra.

Cheers! Garden bars don't necessarily have to be put away for the winter, as some are covered and can be warmed up with a heater (at a safe distance) or blankets

Cheers! Garden bars don’t necessarily have to be put away for the winter, as some are covered and can be warmed up with a heater (at a safe distance) or blankets

When your bar arrives, it will be unpainted and without any of the accessories, lights or additional wall fittings shown in the adverts. You will, however, have a blank canvas on which to create your own unique bar vibe.

Siobhan suggests creating a backdrop feature with nature-inspired outdoor wallpaper, and creating an eclectic counter-top using patterned tile mosaics or faux marble vinyl.

If you’re looking for a pub experience in your back garden and you have a budget of close to £4,000, Dunster’s Severn Pub Shed Log Cabin could be right up your street, if you have the space that is. At 5m wide and 3m deep, it’s no small addition to your outside space.

Only the structure and bar are included in the £3,959.98 price — you’d have to buy your own pub sign, seating and beer pump. But there’s space to hang a TV, room for a heater and doors to shut out the chill.

Those who want to entertain their friends in the garden all-year-round could push the boat out with Cuckoo-land’s Ornate Garden Off Set Oval House Garden Pod for £18,995. 

It seats ten, has a built-in heater, Bluetooth soundbar and a sideboard, which can be used as a bar. Installation is included, but you’ll need a level, hard-standing base measuring at least 3.25m by 1.7m for it to be built on.

Although most garden bars are designed so that you don’t need planning permission, it’s always wise to check the height of the bar at its highest point against current regulations. Buildings over 2.5m high, at the tip of the eaves, may require planning permission.

Check with your local council if you are unsure.

Savings of the week… quirky lamps 

Light side: Graham and Green's Hetty Hare table lamp - reduced from £165 to £89.10 (

Light side: Graham and Green’s Hetty Hare table lamp – reduced from £165 to £89.10 (

The nights are drawing in. If this makes you feel a little melancholic, a quirky lamp that brings joy when you switch it on could be the answer.

Homeware companies seem to have recognised the allure of this type of lighting, and you can you find designs in every shape and hue at reduced prices.

If zingy colour raises your mood, Not On The High Street has an Anglepoise-style desk lamp in acid yellow, reduced from £75 to £52.50.

The retailer offers lamps in the shape of birds and bears. But the range also includes a white triceratops lamp which was £19.95 and is now £13.97 — for those who find dinosaurs cute rather than fearsome.

Graham and Green has a fun silver Hetty Hare table lamp with large floppy ears that has been reduced from £165 to £89.10.

Or enjoy a warm glow from the edgy Wayfair lustrous copper base and black shade Trystan lamp with 30 per cent off at £62.99.


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Assessing The Potential of The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) Against China’s Belt And Road Initiative (BRI)

(THE VOICE OF EU) – In a recent address, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the newly unveiled India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) as a transformative force poised to shape global trade for centuries. While the IMEC undoubtedly presents a significant development, it’s vital to scrutinize its potential impact compared to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The IMEC was jointly announced by US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 summit in Delhi. Designed to fortify transportation and communication networks between Europe and Asia via rail and shipping routes, the project not only holds regional promise but also reflects a strategic move by the US in its geopolitical interests, particularly concerning China.

However, the IMEC faces a formidable contender in the form of China’s BRI, which celebrated its tenth anniversary this year.

Despite facing some headwinds, including a slowdown in lending due to China’s economic deceleration and concerns raised by nations like Italy, Sri Lanka, and Zambia regarding debt sustainability, the BRI remains a monumental global undertaking.

With investments surpassing a staggering $1 trillion and over 150 partner countries, the BRI has transformed from a regional initiative to a near-global endeavor.

Comparatively, the IMEC may not immediately match the scale or ambition of the BRI. While the US, Japan, and the G7 nations have introduced similar initiatives like the Global Gateway and Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, none have achieved the expansive reach or influence of the BRI.

The emergence of these projects over the past five years, however, demonstrates the BRI’s pivotal role as a catalyst for global economic growth.

Viewing the IMEC solely through the lens of opposition to the BRI may not provide a comprehensive understanding of its potential.

Instead, the IMEC contributes to a broader trend of transactional partnerships, where countries engage with multiple collaborators simultaneously, underscoring the complex and interconnected nature of global trade relations.

Yet, realizing the IMEC’s aspirations demands meticulous planning and execution. A comprehensive action plan is expected within the next 60 days, outlining key governmental agencies responsible for investments, allocated capital, and implementation timelines.

Establishing a streamlined customs and trade infrastructure is equally critical to facilitate seamless transit, a challenge highlighted by the Trans-Eurasian railway’s 30-country passage through Kazakhstan.

Navigating geopolitical complexities between partner countries, particularly the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, poses another potential hurdle.

Ensuring these nations maintain a unified strategic vision amid differing priorities and interests requires careful diplomatic coordination.

Furthermore, the IMEC will compete directly with the Suez Canal, a well-established and cost-effective maritime route.

While the IMEC may enhance relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, it could potentially strain ties with Egypt, prompting critical assessments of the project’s economic viability.

Beyond trade and economics, the IMEC ambitiously aims to incorporate diverse sectors, from electricity grids to cybersecurity.

This multi-dimensional approach aligns with discussions held in security forums like the Quad and, if realized, could significantly contribute to a safer, more sustainable global landscape.

As we contemplate the potential of the IMEC, it is with hope that the lofty ambitions outlined in New Delhi will culminate in a tangible and positive transformation for the world.

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Copyright Dispute: DC Comics And ‘Fables’ Author Clash over Ownership, Author Aims for Public Domain

A detail from a 'Fables' cartoon by Bill Willingham. Image courtesy of the publisher ECC.
A detail from a ‘Fables’ cartoon by Bill Willingham. Image courtesy of the publisher ECC.

This is a story full of fairy tales. In some ways, it even resembles one. And yet it also proves that, in the real world, things rarely end happily ever after. A few days ago, Bill Willingham, the father of the celebrated Fables comic book series, announced that he was sending his most cherished work to the public domain, that is, to everyone. That’s only fair, since that is also where he got the main characters of his stories, from Snow White to the Wolf, from Pinocchio to Prince Charming, who were then relocated to modern New York. In this tale, the hero has long-faced mistreatment at the hands of the villains, DC Comics, the owner of Vertigo, which publishes the work in the United States, and its executives.

“If I couldn’t prevent Fables from falling into bad hands, at least this is a way I can arrange that it also falls into many good hands,” Willingham wrote in an online post in which he decried the label’s repeated attempts to take over his creations and opposed them with this final extreme remedy. But the company responded that it considers itself to be the true owner of the series.

In a statement published by the specialized media IGN, the company threatened to take “necessary action” to defend its rights. Thus, the end of the dispute is uncertain. But it is unlikely that everyone will end up happily ever after.

In the meantime, in a new post, Willingham celebrated the massive support he received. In fact, for the moment, he has declined all interview requests — he did not respond to this newspaper’s request, nor did the publisher — arguing that he preferred to spend the next few days working on new artistic projects. Meanwhile, the dispute continues.

Fables is one of the most celebrated graphic novels of the last 20 years, and it has spawned spin-offs and a video game adaptation (The Wolf Among Us).

This situation also touches on a key issue, namely, the intellectual property rights of characters and works, especially in a sector where, for decades, dozens of cartoonists and screenwriters have accused comic book giants Marvel and DC of pressuring them to cede their ideas and accept commissioned contracts.

Willingham sums it up as a policy aimed to make creators sign “work for hire” agreements and crush them. All of this makes a gesture that was already intended to make a splash even more resonant.

A detail from a ‘Fables’ cartoon by Bill Willingham. Image provided by ECC
A detail from a ‘Fables’ cartoon by Bill Willingham. Image provided by ECC.

Indeed, the battle over intellectual property is as old as contemporary comics: the copyrights for Superman, Batman and The Fantastic Four all have unresolved disputes and complaints from Jerry Siegel, Bill Finger and Jack Kirby over the contemptuous treatment they suffered. And heavyweight Alan Moore has been lamenting for years that DC took away his ownership of famous works like Watchmen.

Along with prestige and principles, tens of millions of dollars are at stake, especially now that the film industry has become interested in comics.

“When you sign a contract with DC, your responsibilities to them are carved in stone, where their responsibilities to you are treated as “helpful suggestions that we’ll try to accommodate when we can, but we’re serious adults, doing serious business and we can’t always take the time to indulge the needs of these children who work for us” the Fables author wrote on his blog. Following the impact of his original message, Willingham posted two other texts. He maintains that he had thought about sending his work into the public domain when he passed away, but that “certain events” have changed his plans: among them, he lists the changes in management and attitude at the top of the publishing company; the multiple breaches of obligations such as consultations about covers, artists for new plots and adaptations; DC’s forgetfulness when it came to pay, which forced him to demand invoices of up to $30,000; the suspicious frequency with which the publisher attributed it to “slipping through the cracks” (to such an extent that the author insisted that they stop using that expression); and the time and chances he gave them to respect the pact, renegotiate it or even break it and consensually separate.

A detail from the cover of the first volume of Bill Willingham's comprehensive collection of 'Fables.'
A detail from the cover of the first volume of Bill Willingham’s comprehensive collection of ‘Fables’.

“Shortly after creating Fables, I entered into a publishing agreement with DC Comics. In that agreement, while I continued to own the property, DC would have exclusive rights to publish Fables comics, and then later that agreement was expanded to give DC exclusive rights to exploit the property in other ways, including movies and TV.

DC paid me a fair price for these rights (fair at the time), and as long as they behaved ethically and above-board, and conducted themselves as if this were a partnership, all was more or less well. But DC doesn’t seem to be capable of acting fairly and above-board.

In fact, they treated this agreement (as I suppose I should have known they would) as if they were the boss and I, their servant. In time that got worse, as they later reinterpreted our contracts to assume they owned Fables outright,” Willingham laments. Hence, he concluded that “you can’t reason with the unreasonable.”

Having ruled out a lawsuit as too expensive and time-consuming at 67 years of age, he found a more creative solution: if they prevented him from owning his works and benefiting from them as he was entitled to do, he would not let the publisher do so either. Or, at least, everyone could use the comics as they wished. But the label was quick to clarify in its statement to IGN: “The Fables comic books and graphic novels [are] published by DC, and are not in the public domain”.

For his part, Willingham promises to continue fighting for all the conditions of his still-in-force contract that he considers DC to have violated, as well as for the last installments of the series, the final script of which he delivered two years ago.

There will be additional chapters in this dispute, as well as in many other ones like it: in 2024, the historic first image of Mickey Mouse, the one that starred in the 1928 short Steamboat Willie, enters the public domain in the U.S. and other countries. Copyright in the U.S. lasts for 95 years, and math is an exact science.

Therefore, in a few years, King Kong, Superman and Popeye will meet the same fate. But The New York Times has wondered how the “notoriously litigious” Disney will react and how far it will go to fight in court. And who would dare to freely use all these works for fear of a million-dollar lawsuit? The same question surrounds DC and similar companies. Because in the real world, fairy tales are rare. Or they end up in court.

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