GOOD things come to those who wait — and that was certainly the case with Julie Bennett.
After many years struggling with bulimia, she qualified as a nutritional therapist at 40 and began commercial modelling at 53. Now aged 55, she has taken her nutrition business online.
“I first qualified as a nutritional therapist in 2009,” says Julie, of Ballincollig.
“I wanted to educate myself so I could improve my relationship with food. I love fashion, beauty and health. I think it’s all the same kind of thing, really.”
Having suffered from bulimia in her teens, Julie says that growing up there was a lot of shame and secrecy around the eating disorder.
“What I was doing felt so wrong. I would think of people who had no food and wonder, ‘why am I doing this?’ I didn’t understand it and I blamed myself. I might stop for a week or so but then I would be back on it.
“Bulimia is different from anorexia in that you can see someone who has anorexia. They are not eating. Bulimia is easier to hide. You can overeat and still keep your weight.”
What the two disorders have in common is that the person is trying to control something in their life because they might not have a control over something else. It’s not really about the food. There could be triggers to set it off. I did a bit of counselling around it.”
At 19, Julie went to America for a few months. She says her time away helped her to get a handle on bulimia.
“I thought going to America would help me. I might meet someone and be happy ever after. But that’s not what happened and it got quite bad when I was there.
"I thought to myself, ‘OK, when I go home I am not doing this anymore’ and when I came home, I actually did stop.”
Julie says: “Even though the bulimia ended, I still had a negative attitude to food. But I was busy with life and kids. For years I would tiptoe around it.
“It was only when I went to work in a weight loss clinic that I realised I couldn’t really help anybody else if I felt the way I did about food so I decided to study nutrition.
"I realised that food wasn’t the enemy. Food is not just a fuel, I realised it can heal you in lots of ways. What it does for you is amazing: it can energise you and help you hormonally.
“Don’t get me wrong, I like junk food, too. I had a couple of glasses of wine last night and I’m having a few milk thistle teas today. It’s all about balance!”
Julie says that she is happy to speak publicly about her history with bulimia and hopes it can help others. She also feels there are other issues people need to talk about.
“I work in a health shop and a lot of women come in with symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. The feedback I get from them is that they don’t hear enough about these issues. They are looking for answers and natural remedies.
“If you are a woman going to work having hot flushes, you can imagine the stress involved. It keeps you awake at night because you are sweating in bed.”
The menopause is the end of egg production in a woman. The time leading up to it is called the perimenopause. Because of hormonal changes, many women experience physical and emotional symptoms, such as hot flushes, night sweats, irritability and weight gain.
“If younger women knew about it, they could be preparing their body so the transition is fairly easy,” says Julie.
“For example, having a tablespoon of flaxseed a day in your porridge or yogurt can have a huge impact when you’re older. Flax seeds are a source of Omega 3. That helps balance hormones and it’s a huge source of fibre. It keeps your gut healthy.
“If your gut isn’t healthy, it has an impact on so many different pathways in your body.”
What was it like to begin modelling at the age of 53?
“Seeing other people do it made me think I could. I reached out to a few local people and someone mentioned Orla Diffily. She runs an agency called UpFront Model Management. I met her for coffee and she said I would suit commercial modelling. She took a chance on me.”
Julie says she is looking forward to getting back to her new career after the pandemic.
“Before lockdown, I was on The Today Show five or six times, I really enjoyed that. It was a great experience. You would be meeting people on the show as well, in the little green room.
“I did a few fashion shows. I really love it. Although, you only get a couple of months out of it. You wouldn’t be giving up your day job, really!”
“Fifty was a hard age for me in terms of ageing. But now I don’t care about any of that. I just think, do what you want. Life is too short.”
Now that Julie has taken her nutritional expertise online, she is offering nutritional therapy sessions.
“I would say that people who might be drawn to my work would be older women but I am open to helping anyone. I would love to do more educational work for women around nutrition. I would love to see where that leads.”