Messenger - Vol. 3, No. 3, Page 19
Spring 1994
Alumni Profile
When you fall out love with food

     M Ireland, Delaware '88M, established a new career for herself
while traveling the road to recovery from the eating disorder-
bulimia. Ireland's personal experiences inspired her to become a
professional counselor, and, in 1989, she founded a counseling center
in Wilmington, Del., where women, and later men as well, could meet to
address eating disorders, stress management and related issues.
     "I'd always had issues with my body and my image," Ireland says.
"The real problem started in high school. I thought if the numbers on
the scale were OK, then that meant that I was OK. If I could
manipulate my body to look 'right,' I thought I would feel better
about myself."
     At 5'1" and 115 pounds, Ireland felt overweight. She first began
purging as a means to lose weight when she learned that her boyfriend,
a high school wrestler, would throw up before meets to satisfy weight-
class regulations. He made it seem like a safe thing to do, she says,
and she began a roller-coaster ride of eating binges and purging
     In college, Ireland turned to laxatives and diet pills to lose
the extra pounds. Sometimes, her daily intake of food consisted only
of an apple and some salad. More often, it included huge quantities of
sugary snacks. It was not uncommon for her daily menu to include a
dozen doughnuts or a half gallon of ice cream. Yet, Ireland
successfully managed to hide her secret from friends, family and,
later, her husband. With a degree in nursing from the University of
Vermont, Ireland enjoyed helping others, often forgetting to take care
of herself. Outwardly, Ireland seemed normal and happy, but, inside, a
different person existed.
     "I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't understand what it
was. I felt alone, ashamed, isolated and full of pain," she says. She
     drinking for solace.
     Ultimately, Ireland found herself in the hospital, weak from
malnutrition and weighing 100 pounds. But, she says, her illness made
her think she was still too fat. Recognizing the contradiction,
Ireland decided she couldn't solve her problem alone and she sought
professional help.
     "I was forced to look at the dysfunction in my family and the
fact that my needs were not being met. I couldn't share my emotions.
The only way I could express my emotions was by purging them," she
     Ireland decided she wanted to help other people who are suffering
from bulimia and anorexia. "I knew I had to listen to my inner voice,"
she says. "I learned that I could break the secrecy and silence. I
wanted to let others know they are not alone, because I could remember
how painful and isolating it was for me."
     After earning a master's degree in counseling at the University,
she was licensed by the state of Delaware as a psychiatric clinical
specialist and certified as a chemical dependency nurse. Five years
ago, she opened A Woman's Place, a center where women could meet to
address eating disorders, stress management and related issues.
Because the disease does not discriminate, male patients began to come
through the doors, and she expanded her services, renaming her center
Altering Disordered Eating.
     "The majority of our clients are women," she says, "but that
doesn't mean that men don't have a problem with food. About 10 to 15
percent of our clientele are men."
     Today, Altering Disordered Eating offers various programs based
on a holistic approach that seeks a client's spiritual, mental,
emotional and physical well-being. In addition to Ireland, the center
staff includes a dietitian, a licensed social worker, an exercise
specialist and art and dance therapists.
     Ireland, who last year received a Presidential Citation Award for
Outstanding Achievement from the University, travels around the region
speaking about her personal experience with an eating disorder and
holding training seminars for professionals. Soon, she expects to
publish a book titled, How To Fall Out of Love With Food.
     "Many people substitute food for love," she says. "They'll gorge
on chocolate and cake when what they really want is someone to love
them as they are. We try to provide that love and teach our clients
other places where they can find it on the outside, in affirmative,
self-supporting ways."
                                         -Gayle McCarthy, Delaware '92