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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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Our council tried to force us to sell our £200,000 home to make room for asylum seekers: Elderly couple’s horror after strongly-worded letter lands on their doorstep

An elderly couple who had just moved into their £200,000 house were horrified to receive a letter from their council suggesting the property could be subject to compulsory purchase and used to house asylum seekers.

Jose and Ted Saunders said they were ‘insulted and shocked’ when the strongly-worded letter from North Northamptonshire Council – which has never balanced its own books – dropped on their mat last month.

It said their neat mid-terraced house in Rushden, near Wellingborough, was deemed to be an empty property, or was ‘derelict’ and the council could even force them to sell it.

‘I couldn’t believe it,’ said retired carer Jose, 76. ‘We moved to Rushden to help provide childcare for my grand-daughter and found this nice little place to live.

‘The idea of forcing us to sell it to make room for refugees and asylum seekers seems totally wrong.’

Jose and Ted Saunders, the couple who received a letter from the council suggesting their property could be subject to a compulsory purchase order and used to house asylum seekers

The letter that Jose and Ted received from North Northamptonshire Council last month

The letter, headed ‘Empty Properties and sites initiative’ had their exact address in bold and stated: ‘We are writing as we have reason to believe that the above-named premises… is empty or unused.

‘The Government has identified empty privately-owned properties as a potential cause of blight within communities, and as a wasted resource at time of high housing need.’

The letter continued that the council was seeing a ‘considerable increase’ in positive immigration decisions being made in favour of asylum seekers, mainly single men, and the authority was ‘struggling’ to source suitable accommodation for them.

It added: ‘The ideal long-term solution would be to provide accommodation by using empty properties which would benefit owners and the project.’

It said the council could make a compulsory purchase order on the property.

The couple thought the they were going to lose their home worth £200,000 (above)

The couple thought the they were going to lose their home worth £200,000 (above)

North Northamptonshire Council has never managed to balance its budget since its inception in 2021. The council has said increased pressures from demand-led services have driven up costs.

Added Jose: ‘It was all the more worrying as we’d only moved in last November, so we still hadn’t received the deeds for the house.’

Retired driving instructor Ted, 78, and his wife called the council and asked what was going on.

Three days later they received an apology, saying their staff had mistakenly ear-marked the house for possible compulsory purchase, but the Saunders were still baffled by the policy itself.

‘What on earth is the council doing forcing people to sell their houses – and even an empty house is owned by someone – so that asylum seekers can live in them?’ asked Jose.

‘The answer to this is to stop them coming in the first place, not to force people out of their homes.’

The incident was seized upon by the Reform UK Party, whose candidate in Thursday’s (Feb 15) Wellingborough by-election, Ben Habib, heard about the couple.

Mr Habib, who is also the party’s co-deputy leader, told MailOnline: ‘I was horrified to hear the plight of Mr. & Mrs. Saunders, but my horror could not compare to what they experienced last month.

‘They were served with a letter from North Northamptonshire District Council seeking to possess their home. The accusation made was their home was derelict and the Council intended to use it to house single young men seeking asylum. Known to the rest of us as illegal migrants.

‘ I can confirm their home is most certainly not derelict. It was well appointed and cared for. They were distraught by the threat made by the Council. They feared not having title deeds and being incapable of defending their position. It was not until they visited the Council and after much pleading they managed to get the Council to desist.

The Saunders had just moved in to their new home when they received a letter from the council suggesting that could be the subject of a compulsory purchase order by the council

The Saunders had just moved in to their new home when they received a letter from the council suggesting that could be the subject of a compulsory purchase order by the council

A spokesman North Northamptonshire Council apologised to the couple for suggesting that their home could be sold top house asylum seekers - and said it had been sent in error

A spokesman North Northamptonshire Council apologised to the couple for suggesting that their home could be sold top house asylum seekers – and said it had been sent in error  

‘It is utterly shocking that the Council would fire off a letter like that to two elderly people. And do so with the aim of buying a £200,000 house for asylum seekers. This from a Council that is as good as bust and has never filed consolidated accounts since it was established in 2021.

‘The local charity for homeless people, the Daylight Centre, spends £650 per head per homeless person per year. Think what that charity could do with £200,000! It would be able to provide care for over 300 British citizens. There are also veterans’ charities in the constituency struggling to care of soldiers who risked life and limb for the country. Instead of the money going to them, the Council was prepared to blow it on housing maybe 4 migrants, after forcing out of their home two elderly British citizens. Disgraceful.’

The Council is run by the Tories – for all their chat about championing local issues both the Tories and Labour are asleep about the damage being wrought on Wellingborough by a failed council and a complete failure to police our territorial waters. Heads should roll and the Saunders should be compensated!

‘The only party capable of preventing the dystopia into which our country is sinking is Reform UK – the Tories and Labour have lost the plot.’

Jason Smithers, Leader of North Northamptonshire Council, told MailOnline in a statement: ‘North Northamptonshire Council (NNC) is working with owners of long-term empty properties to bring their property back into use. Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) are not utilised to “oust” current owners from their properties, they are a tool used as a very last resort to bring empty properties, which are a valuable and much need housing resource, back into use.

‘The “empty property initiative letters” were sent out in a bid to assist empty property owners to bring their property back into use, and on the whole, the support from NNC was gratefully received. Since NNC formed in 2021, no properties have been purchased by CPO. This is a mechanism of last resort to bring problematic, long term empty properties back into use.

‘Unfortunately, in this case, records held by NNC were outdated, and the letter was incorrectly sent to a property which was occupied. For this I am very sorry for causing any undue distress and worry.’

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“Dune: Part Two” Strikes A Balance Of Solemnity And Excitement, Amplifying The Saga’s Epic Journey

Dune: Part Two

‘Dune: Part Two’

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebeca Fergusson, Javier Bardem

Genre: Science fiction. USA, 2024

Runtime: 166 minutes

Release date: March 1

Frank Herbert’s original novel presents a formidable challenge for readers, not due to its literary style, but rather the intricate web of names, languages, planets, dynasties, and character relationships it entails. Denis Villeneuve’s cinematic adaptation of the first half of the book, while visually stunning, maintained the solemnity and gravity of the source material, making it a demanding viewing experience with its 155-minute runtime dominated by browns, grays, and a lack of liveliness.

Despite the complexities, Herbert’s book has garnered a dedicated following spanning multiple generations, and Villeneuve’s adaptation, surpassing previous attempts, resonated with audiences, critics, and the Academy, grossing over $400 million worldwide and earning six Oscars out of 10 nominations. Against this backdrop, “Dune: Part Two” emerges, maintaining the cinematic flavor and sumptuous tone of its predecessor.

Adult science fiction often exudes grandeur and gravitas, and “Dune: Part Two” is no exception, with its nearly three-hour runtime sustained by the visual mastery of director Denis Villeneuve, known for his work on acclaimed films like “Sicario,” “Prisoners,” and “Enemy.” The stellar cast exudes charisma, complemented by Hans Zimmer’s evocative soundtrack, which fills the theater with palpable intensity. Amidst the weighty political and religious themes, occasional moments of levity, notably from Javier Bardem’s character, offer brief respites from the film’s otherwise serious tone.

Timothée Chalamet, in 'Dune: Part Two.'
Timothée Chalamet, in ‘Dune: Part Two.’

Despite Villeneuve’s technical and artistic prowess, “Dune” falls short of creating enduring cinematic images, reminiscent of his previous works like “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049.” While some sequences lack memorable shots due to pacing issues in editing, others are hindered by digital effects, such as the overcrowded coliseum scene featuring Austin Butler’s character. However, the film still captures the essence of Herbert’s writing, with powerful quotes like “The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.”

Timothée Chalamet’s portrayal of Paul Atreides draws intriguing parallels to Jesus, particularly in his journey through the desert trials, echoing Christ’s temptation by the Devil. The depiction of the Fremen and their struggle on Arrakis evokes comparisons to oppressed peoples throughout history, resonating with contemporary conflicts like Gaza.

Despite being somewhat austere, “Dune: Part Two” remains a compelling and engaging sequel, signaling Villeneuve’s commitment to adapting Herbert’s novels for future generations. As the series progresses, exploring themes of power dynamics, it mirrors present-day geopolitical tensions in the Middle East.

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Discovering The Top Destinations In Europe For 2024

The Top Destinations To Visit In Europe 2024

The Voice Of EU | Welcome to our comprehensive guide to the most exciting European destinations to visit in 2024. Delve into a curated selection of countries, regions, cities, and neighborhoods that promise unique experiences, curated by our expert editors at Condé Nast Traveller UK and Spain.

From hidden gems to emerging hotspots, here’s where to focus your travel plans for the year ahead:

Antwerp, Belgium

Discover intriguing new architecture and a collection of chic hotel openings in Antwerp. Experience the vibrant culinary scene with a visit to renowned Michelin-starred restaurants like The Jane, while enjoying rustic dishes at the sleek new bar, Untitled. Afterward, unwind at August or Hotel Julien for a serene retreat in the heart of the city.

Asturias, Spain

Immerse yourself in eco-focused luxury tourism amidst the breathtaking landscapes of Asturias. Explore UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and rejuvenated routes like the Camino Primitivo, followed by a stay at unique properties such as Solo Palacio and PuebloAstur Eco-Resort. Indulge in the region’s “landscape cuisine” and emerging culinary movement while experiencing cultural events in Oviedo, the gastronomic capital.

Biarritz, France

Experience the revival of the surf town of Biarritz, nestled in the French Basque Country. Stay at artfully restored Belle Époque hotels like Regina Biarritz and Hôtel du Palais, and savor the vibrant Basque culinary scene. Explore sun-soaked beaches, chic boutiques, and cultural hotspots, making Biarritz a must-visit destination for sophisticated travelers.

Bodø, Norway

Embark on a journey of stargazing and natural wonders in Bodø, Norway. As the European Capital of Culture for 2024, Bodø offers a diverse arts program and spectacular landscapes, including the ethereal Lofoten Islands. Stay at luxurious accommodations like The Wood Hotel or embrace nature with GlampNord, all while experiencing the region’s burgeoning food scene.

Budapest, Hungary

Celebrate the 150th anniversary of Budapest with a blend of old-world charm and modern innovation. Explore the city’s architectural wonders, vibrant nightlife, and historic attractions like the Chain Bridge. Stay at iconic properties such as W Budapest and Dorothea Hotel, and experience the city’s cultural renaissance with musical events and new builds like the House of Music Hungary.

Carlsberg City District, Denmark

Immerse yourself in creative newness at the Carlsberg City District in Copenhagen. Explore a vibrant hub of restaurants, shops, and design houses amid repurposed brewery buildings. Indulge in culinary delights at establishments like Coffee Collective and Aamanns, while experiencing the district’s cultural revival with interactive attractions and summer parties.

Costa de Prata, Portugal

Escape to the bohemian charm of Costa de Prata, Portugal’s Silver Coast. Experience the quiet coastal beauty of Ericeira and Nazaré, with new luxury hotels like Aethos and Ohai Nazaré. Explore historic towns like Obidos and Aveiro, indulging in local delicacies and cultural experiences, making Costa de Prata a hidden gem for discerning travelers.

Cyclades, Greece

Embark on a salty-air island-hopping adventure in the Cyclades, Greece’s dazzling blue archipelago. With new flights and smart stays like Santo Pure and Kalesma Mykonos, explore iconic destinations like Mykonos, Santorini, and Paros with unparalleled luxury. Experience the region’s vibrant atmosphere, thrilling beach clubs, and world-class hospitality, creating unforgettable memories in the Greek islands.


Discover pristine countryside and adventurous trails in Kosovo, Europe’s newest country. Explore hiking and biking routes like the Trans Dinarica cycling route, and experience the region’s unique Sámi heritage and outdoor activities. Stay at charming accommodations like Ujëvara e Drinit Resort and Ariu, indulging in traditional Kosovar cuisine and warm hospitality.

Mallorca, Spain

Experience the unrivaled luxury of Mallorca with an array of exciting new hotels across the island. Stay at exclusive properties like Son Bunyola and Ikos Porto Petro, indulging in low-key luxury and exceptional service.

READ: The True Cost Of Living In Madrid, Spain: A Comprehensive Guide & Neighborhoods

Explore the island’s natural beauty, cultural attractions, and culinary delights, making Mallorca, Spain a timeless destination for discerning travelers.

Northern Italy

Embark on next-level cycling adventures and motorsports experiences in Northern Italy. Witness the historic stages of the Tour de France in Florence, Rimini, and Turin, while exploring gastronomic heritage and scenic landscapes. Stay at luxury accommodations like Middleton Lodge and experience slow travel with new railway routes and cultural events, making Northern Italy a paradise for sports enthusiasts and culture seekers.

Yorkshire, UK

Indulge in a foodie revolution amidst the enchanting landscapes of Yorkshire, UK. Experience star chefs and Michelin-starred restaurants like The Abbey Inn and Mýse, offering creative culinary experiences and luxurious accommodations. Explore Yorkshire’s natural wonders, cultural events, and emerging culinary scene, creating a bewitching travel experience in 2024.

Destinations & Experience

With an array of exciting destinations and experiences to explore, Europe beckons travelers with its rich history, vibrant culture, and breathtaking landscapes. Whether you seek adventure, luxury, or cultural immersion, the best places to go in Europe in 2024 promise unforgettable memories and endless discovery. Start planning your European adventure today and embark on a journey of a lifetime.

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