Case Study: Tom’s Story

Tom can’t remember a time when weight was not an issue. As a young boy he was often taunted, teased or simply left out by his peers in the playground because he was slightly overweight. As the years passed by the weight piled on and by the time he was 14 years old he weighed 16 stone. Tom’s mum urged the GP to help and at last Tom was referred to see a specialist at the local hospital.

It was Tom’s worst nightmare coming true. He had to tell the doctor all about his daily food and drink intake and then he was weighed. The nightmare became a reality when the doctor said to Tom “you are overweight”. Tom’s head started to scream out thousands of words.

Tom’s parents were really supportive and encouraged Tom to go to the gym and eat a more healthy diet. Tom felt he was doing well and losing weight but was devastated, when on his next trip to the doctor his weight had not changed.

Tom was sent to a dietician and they worked out a diet plan together. With a much increased exercise regime and the new diet Tom found losing weight wasn’t so hard after all. Tom’s family and doctor were euphoric when, several months later, Tom reached the average weight for his age and height. However there was a problem. Tom’s mood was very low and, despite his weight loss, every time he looked in the mirror he still saw nothing but fat.

Tom became obsessed about his weight, diet and exercise. He continued to lose weight at an alarming rate and his family watched helplessly as he reduced his food intake to almost nothing and insisted on going to the gym almost every day. Tom quickly became very fragile and his mum insisted that they go back to the doctor. He recognised that Tom had developed an eating disorder and referred Tom to see a child psychiatrist, but this would not be until after Christmas. Tom was petrified that Christmas would make him fat and so he desperately tried to avoid anything fatty and returned to the gym as soon as he could after Christmas, where he did the hardest workout he had ever done. In a short period of time Tom had gone from being unhealthily overweight to dangerously anorexic.

Tom found his visits to the child psychiatrist nerve wracking and he felt like a freak. He continued to lose weight and at one point was losing 3 pounds a week His weight fell to 8 stone. Tom has seen some other therapists since but thus far he has not really been able to fight his anorexia for more than short periods of time. His mind is split in two – anorexia and reality – and he and his family are praying that reality comes out on top.

Tom’s message to parents is that it is really important that if your son/daughter has any signs of an eating disorder, they should seek treatment as soon as possible. As Tom and his family have found out, the longer you leave it, the harder it is to fight the illness.

Tom has become an Ambassador for the youth section of the Eating Disorder Association. Rather than suffering in silence this means that Tom gets his voice heard. His views on treatment and his experience of suffering from an eating disorder can be used to improve professional services and challenge the stereotypes of young people with eating disorders in the media. Despite his illness he is managing to make a very positive contribution through this role.