Take Me Out’s Zoe Hardman “I was starving myself to be thin – but now I love my body”

by Lisa McGarry

Zoe opens up to Closer magazine about her battle with an eating disorder and finding confidence again.

Posing in a revealing cutaway swimsuit as she recreates Helena Christensen’s famous Reebok ad campaign, TV presenter Zoe Hardman looks effortlessly gorgeous. Lean and toned, the size 8 star of Take Me Out’s hit ITV2 spin-off show, The Gossip, oozes with just as much confidence as the supermodel that inspired our photo shoot. But it hasn’t always been this way.

The 29 year old has spoken for the first time ever about her battle with an eating disorder in her early 20s – and how it almost destroyed her chances of having children.

Zoe exclusively tells Closer: “I wasn’t in a brilliant place in my head. I was addicted to exercise, working out twice a day, and eating a really low-fat diet with no carbs.

“It was only when my mum, Carol, took me to the doctor and I was told I might not be able to have children if I carried on that something inside me changed.”

Zoe first started worrying about her weight she was around 19, but it was when she was 22 and had just appeared on Channel 4 dating show Playing It Straight in 2005 that her eating problems started to take hold.

“Being on TV, I felt under pressure to look a certain way and dropped a lot of weight fast,” she recalls. “It affected my relationships, and friends and family were really worried about me.”

Zoe is keen to speak about her weight issues to help other girls overcome theirs. She says: “Eating disorders can make people very deceitful and defensive, but talking about it is the first step to recovery. You can turn your life around – I’m the proof!”

Zoe, who’s 5ft 4, says being on TV made her critical of her looks and she soon became obsessive about her diet and exercise, dropping from 8st and a size 8 to 7st 2lbs and a size 6 – underweight and with an unhealthy BMI for her small frame.

“I became an expert at pretending to have eaten, when really I was skipping meals and starving myself,” she remembers.

“I was single and my parents were living in Kenya at the time, so it was easy to keep my eating habits a secret.”

As well as jeopardising her fertility, Zoe had other health problems, including back pain and knee injuries. She has needed four operations on her right knee – the last one in March 2011 – to repair cartilage damage caused by excessive running, sometimes twice a day for over 10 miles.

“I look at it as my body warning me I was pushing myself too hard,” she says.

Zoe didn’t seek help for four years, until her mum stepped in and took her to the doctor. Zoe admits: “My family visited me in the UK and noticed that I was very thin. But I was so defensive whenever they tried to talk to me, it was hard for them to get through.”

But when her GP acknowledged there was a problem and gave her a stark warning about the impact an eating disorder could have on her body, she was jolted into action.

She says: “I wanted to have a family and have happy, healthy relationships. You can’t do that with an eating disorder, as you’re constantly lying to people.”

Using her determination and with her family’s support, over the next year Zoe worked hard to improve her eating habits. She reached a healthy weight of 8st in 2010, which she has maintained ever since.

“Whenever I started slipping into my old ways, I’d remind myself I had to get healthy if I wanted children,” she says.

Thankfully, Zoe is now fully recovered and has a healthy attitude towards food and exercise. She’s even dabbling in cooking.

“I wouldn’t say I’m great, but I do a good stir-fry and love baking salmon in the oven with lemon, butter, salt and pepper,” she says.

“Now it’s all about balance for me. I still watch what I eat, but not obsessively. I try to stick to unprocessed foods and eat five small meals a day, with lean protein like fish and eggs, slow-releasing carbs like rye bread and plenty of veg. But my weakness is chocolate!”

Zoe also exercises regularly, mixing gym workouts with tennis, Bikram yoga and golf. And she says her healthy lifestyle has helped her put her body issues behind her.

“I’m happy with my body at last,” she smiles.

And Zoe, who’s single, has found an unlikely ally in her Take Me Out: The Gossip co-host, Mark Wright, 25. “At the studio, we’re always trying to resist Krispy Kremes and have fruit instead!” she says.

“I love working with Mark – we’ve got brilliant chemistry. But we’ll never go out on a date. He says I’m like his sister and I couldn’t see him as a boyfriend.”

For now, Zoe’s focus is on her holiday to LA next month. She says: “I’m looking forward to getting into my bikini and having some fun!”

This week’s Closer magazine is on sale now (Tuesday).