Delilah Koch On Overcoming Disordered Habits and Mental Health Stigma

In a fast-paced industry like fashion, mental health can be overlooked or worse, seen as minuscular. Living through a global pandemic has significantly increased symptoms of anxiety, depression, and much more for the collective culture. Loss has been a shared experience for the majority, whether it’s a loss of a relative, a sense of normalcy, or of jobs — the past year and a half has been a mental battlefield for most. According to National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), “two in five Americans have suffered from various forms of mental health struggles since the start of the pandemic.” As we all battle various forms of the emotional toll, continues this week highlighting models who are speaking out to de-stigmatize mental health in fashion. We spoke to Montana-born Delilah Koch on how she overcame an eating disorder, her mother’s suicide, forgiving herself, and regaining her spark through journaling, meditation, and introspection.

Courtesy of Delilah Koch

How were you first discovered and what about modeling excited you at first?
I have always loved fashion, I spent my childhood rummaging through my mom’s closet, putting on shows in our hallway, and only wearing heels around the house. I was scouted in high school, however, I was still very young and living in Montana so I decided to finish school. After I graduated, I went to Coachella and was scouted again, and soon after I packed my bags and moved across the country and the rest is history! Everything in this industry inspires me. I love the creativity, risks, and passion involved.

How have you been able to balance your mental wellness in such a fast-paced industry?
Boundaries. I have mental checklists for myself that help me remain grounded, for example, journaling has become one of my favorite parts of the day. I write everything as it’s a safe place to release everything that’s on your mind. Letters to loved ones I miss, letters to myself, things I’m grateful for, my emotions, and also my pains. Once it’s on paper I can have a clear view of the areas of my life I can consciously change and have control over. I can focus more on myself, how I feel, and also how I process what is happening around me.

Making time to read is also very important for me, choosing to read a few chapters instead of scrolling social media has made a drastic difference in my mental health. I love to read self-help books, they’re full of inspiration, love, and encouragement that leave you feeling optimistic and hopeful. Going for walks, taking deep breaths meditating, and having a moment of silence always brings me peace when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Closing your eyes and letting your mind rest is pure medicine, letting go of the outside influences, and diving deep into introspection by asking yourself questions on why you think the way you do and why you continue destructive behaviors.

What are some mental health challenges that you’ve had to overcome and how have you been healing from these challenges?
This is the first time I’ve decided to be open and share my own story and struggles with an eating disorder. I knew all the information, signs, and red flags…or so I thought. I was taught how to use calorie counting apps, compared meals, and view food and body image in a terrible light. Starvation is not the answer, you’re left feeling hungry, anxious, and exhausted. Immediately I could feel the effects that it played on my body.

Eating disorders are mental illnesses. They can be triggered by a caloric deficit, environment, and body image just to name a few. I began to notice changes in my moods, behaviors, and health. I slowly distanced myself from friends, social gatherings involving food and spent most of my time isolated. My hair became thin, my body felt exhausted, my energy was depleted and I lost the spark inside. I ran my body to the ground going from one HIIT class to the next. I would become defensive and upset when my friends or family would express their concerns for me, convincing them I was fine, healthy, and happy. At this point, I was petrified of change, scared to break my “routine”, and terrified to ask for help. I finally was open and honest with my family and friends and decided to take my health seriously. I re-taught myself how to eat as an adult. I erased any old knowledge I had on food and learned to see food as essential, healing, and joyous! Now I am delighted when a friend asks me to go out to a restaurant or invites me to their home for a meal. I learned to forgive myself, my past, and my mistakes. I feel like myself again and I have my spark back.

“Allow yourself to evolve and prove to you, not anyone else, that you can overcome these seeming obstacles and transform them into growth and lessons.”

As someone who overcame an eating disorder and suicide in your family, how have you been able to heal from this trauma?
Patience. Forgiveness. Compassion. My mom, Jessica, was in and out of treatment most of my childhood. We would visit her in the summer when she was inpatient, but when she was home she rarely ate meals with us. As I grew older I started to see her health decline, laxative abuse eroded holes in her throat and stomach lining, purging after meals, and her mental health plummeted. She spent days on the couch or in bed, unable to take my brother and me to school. I realize the severity of her bipolar disorder and eating disorders now that I am older but at the time I just thought my mom was extremely tired. There would be weeks where she was riding on Cloud 9, taking us to the mall, going out to eat, surprising us with movies and road trips, and then weeks of her unable to move. The day before she passed, we spent lunch giggling about inside jokes and memories we loved. I had absolutely no idea that the next day she would be gone. My mom passed away on a Friday, we had her funeral Saturday and I was back in school Monday as if nothing had happened. She didn’t leave a note, she didn’t show any signs and she didn’t ask for help.

You have to take all the time you need to grieve because every single person handles loss differently. Embrace the feelings, it’s ok to be mad, sad, confused, or lost. My mom was abundantly loved, cherished, and adored. She seemingly had everything she wanted, and still, her mental illness seemed to be overpowering in the situation. If you need medication for whatever you are facing, please do not feel guilty or embarrassed. If I could give any advice to someone struggling or feeling suicidal, I would say please do not be afraid to ask for help. Seek counseling if you can afford it! We are so lucky to have multiple ways of talking to doctors whether it be on the phone, online, or in person. Spend time with your friends, hug your family, and continue with your life in honor of their spirit. Remember you are not alone, you are worth it, you are good enough, and you deserve to be happy. This is just the beginning! Allow yourself to evolve and prove to you, not anyone else, that you can overcome these seeming obstacles and transform them into growth and lessons.

How have you kept up a wellness routine in the midst of a global pandemic?
Honestly, my wellness routine started during the pandemic! I took advantage of all the free time and dove deep into my passions, hobbies, and learning. Wellness means something different for everyone. I love to keep my mental health #1. I cherish my reading and writing time because it helps me prepare for the day with fresh eyes and a clear mind. Sometimes I’ll make myself some tea, go outside and sit at the park, FaceTime my Grandma or friends, and make myself a nice breakfast. Letting everyday flow, being able to adapt, and be spontaneous is huge for me.

What parts of the fashion industry contribute to mental health struggles for you and what do you think needs to change?
I think the industry is taking a wonderful turn in the right direction, with more inclusivity in body types and ethnicities. However, there is still a fine line between “runway” and “normal”. Every single model, male or female, has different proportions, measurements, and body types. I will never forget the words my first agent said to me that started some of my poor eating disordered behaviors. I feel thankful knowing that more and more people are becoming accepting of multiple body types and sizes. Fashion should be all-inclusive because everyone deserves to fit comfortably in the clothing they love and dream of wearing. I love seeing diversity continue to grow in the industry because it leaves room for more creativity, talent, and conversation. We all have value to add to the world.

How does being vocal about mental health destigmatize it?
Mental illness affects more people than not. Whether it be anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or even OCD. It seems that talking about our stories and feelings can be taboo, but in actuality, it can be very transformative in the healing process. It’s isolating to stay in your head and deal with overwhelming thoughts alone because you have no other outside source to tell you what you’re thinking isn’t true. If my story can help one person feel heard, seen, and understood then I would feel fulfilled. I feel extremely thankful that I can share my experiences in the hopes that I can shed light and not glamorize eating disorders or mental illness. There is no one size fits for mental illness. We are all different and individuals but at the same time we all share similar stories, traumas, and pains.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming models who are dealing with emotional health challenges?
Be compassionate with yourself, take a step back, and focus on what makes you happy. Is what you’re doing sustainable? Is it adding to your overall health and well-being? Do you feel joy in what you’re giving your energy to? It took a lot of time to reconsider my values and how I envisioned my life long-term. I wanted to be able to feel comfortable eating anything at the table, have freedom around food, nurture and care for my body in healthy, yet sustainable ways. Speak up on what you’re passionate about, explore all of your hobbies and talents, and ask for help if you need it. Put time aside for you, set boundaries, be honest with your agents, and let your light shine.