Case Study: Rob’s Story

Rob blogs about his experience as Bulimic Boy. Visit his site at http://bulimicboy.blogspot.co.uk.

Rob is in his mid-30s and has bulimia. He’s suffered from a dysfunctional relationship with food since his early 20s. A third of his life. Not a third of his life wasted, but still a lot of wasted energy trying to control his eating and dealing with its consequences.

Until he left university Rob didn’t have much of a relationship with food at all. It was fuel. He ate when hungry. He liked some things and not others. But all in all he paid food little attention. Then one day he looked down while showering and thought he looked a bit fat. The next day he took one sandwich to work instead of two. He made his breakfasts a little smaller. And his dinners. He started cycling a couple of extra miles each way on his commute (already a 17-mile round trip). He went running almost every lunchtime instead of twice a week.

These changes happened over a couple of months and at first Rob convinced himself that he was being healthy: watching what he ate and taking plenty of exercise. Then he started binging and any illusions that this was ‘normal’ were shattered. While his housemates went out on a Saturday night, Rob would stay in, bake a cake and eat it all before they got home. He had an overwhelming urge to eat and he had to satisfy it. He still gets that urge almost every day. It’s like going into a trance. Thoughts of consequences are banished (although Rob knows very well what those consequences are) and if he gives in he eats until he’s so full that he has to stop.

In the twelve years since this began, Rob’s life has probably looked more-or-less normal to all but the very few people who know about his condition. He’s studied for and got a PhD, worked as a lecturer and now as a project manager for a charity, got married, bought and renovated a house. All things that anyone might do. Rob doesn’t vomit to purge after his binges; he over-exercises. In particular, he cycles. But because he’s always loved cycling and has always cycled a lot, nobody thinks it strange that he rides 27 miles to get to work when it would be two miles if he went straight there.

Over-exercising keeps Rob fit and he’s physically healthy, but his eating disorder is mentally very debilitating. He’s battled depression on and off for all the time he’s had bulimia. He feels ashamed at his lack of self-control and at the things he’s sometimes done: stealing food from friends and eating out of bins. He feels guilty because he’s often withdrawn and so doesn’t show his wife the love she deserves, even though she couldn’t be any more supportive and understanding. His self-esteem is rock bottom because he feels that he’s constantly letting himself down. He feels hopeless because the cycle of binge and purge seems endless. He has no self-confidence because he feels like a failure, even though he’s achieved many things that he set out to achieve. Life is very often a struggle, despite appearances.

But Rob is now trying harder than he’s ever tried, because he was presented with an opportunity in an unexpected guise. He was knocked off his bike and broke his collar bone, meaning no cycling for two months. This was his nightmare come true: being injured badly enough that he couldn’t exercise. But he also recognised it as a golden opportunity: a chance to address the destructive eating behaviours that he’d persisted with for more than a decade.

Rob’s collar bone has healed and he’s back on his bike now. His eating disorder hasn’t been so easily cured, but Rob feels for the first time that he can beat it. He’s realised that the cure, if that’s what it is, has to come from within. He has to want to get better. Want it enough that he’s willing to suffer when the urge to binge strikes, which means suffering most days. Want it enough to cling to the knowledge that if he doesn’t give in, he’ll feel immeasurably better the next day than if he does.

Rob had cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for his bulimia about eight years ago, but he now realises that at the time he didn’t really want to get better. Or at least not all of him did. Some part of him was comfortable with bulimia; with the certainty of the binge and purge routine and the crutch it provided. But after twelve years that comfort has gone. Bulimia is nothing but a millstone now. There’s no part of Rob that sees it as positive. So every day he’s searching for the willpower to eat normally, exercise but not over exercise, and resist the urge to binge.

Rob’s been to his GP and is awaiting referral for another course of CBT. This time he hopes that he will make the most of it. And he’s started blogging about his experience of being a man with an eating disorder. Partly this is therapy: Rob finds that getting his thoughts and feelings out helps him to make sense of them. And partly it’s in the hope that someone in a similar situation might read what he’s written and find something helpful in it. If even that tiny positive could come from his experience, Rob would feel that all that energy used on bulimia over the last twelve years might not have been completely wasted. He knows it’ll be a long road and that he hasn’t binged for the last time yet, but at least he feels hope now. For him, that in itself is a crucial step on the path to recovery.

Rob blogs about his experience as Bulimic Boy. Visit his site at http://bulimicboy.blogspot.co.uk.