Steve's Story

My battle with bulimia began when I was 24.  To this day I still don't know what triggered it.  I had just landed a job working for a well-known record company and was living a very glamorous lifestyle surrounded by pop stars.  I was dining out in restaurants I had previously only dreamt of, on generous expense accounts.

I should have been happy but inside I was miserable and lonely.  Finding myself surrounded by beautiful people only served to make me aware of my own shortcomings and I think I developed an inferiority complex.  I don't know why but one evening I was at an expensive restaurant in London and, after eating a prawn cocktail starter, I slipped to the toilet, put two fingers down my throat and threw up.

Then I returned to the table and ate my second course.  Following that, I made an excuse and did the same again.  I ordered a dessert and got rid of that, too.

I remember feeling disgusted with myself but at the same time I experienced a sense of achievement.  It seemed clever.  It meant I could eat a big meal and still be thin.  It was the perfect arrangement.

Back then, I didn't know exactly what I was doing to my body.  Eating disorders have always been thought of as something which affects women but I believe thousands of men also suffer from this cruel condition.

It is thought that bulimia is a physical way of responding to depression, stress or self-esteem issues.  These issues can often be traced back to early childhood.  I grew up in a small town in Kent.  As a family we ate healthily but I loved my food and would happily finish off other people's leftovers.  I wasn't overweight as a child but, by 15, I had become a rather chunky teenager and I recall being self-conscious about my weight.

During my mid-teens, I also developed a strange night-time bingeing habit.  I'd scoff anything - jam, pickles, mayonnaise, leftover supper.  By my late 20s my night eating reached disturbing heights.  When I was living with my girlfriend (now my wife) we would even lock the kitchen door in an attempt to keep me out.  Sometimes she'd wake up and find me standing at the foot of the bed begging for the kitchen door key but I never remembered this in the morning.

Once I was staying at a friend's house where a kids' birthday party was planned for the next day.  In one of my night-time trances I guzzled the entire birthday cake.

To make sure I actually lost weight, I began to skip meals during the day.  I also began making myself sick after meals, particularly in social situations.  Like most addicts, I hid my compulsions.  To disguise my bad breath, I would drink strong spirits or suck mints.

I thought the very act of eating a big meal or something fattening in front of someone made me appear fat.  I became obsessed with looking in mirrors.  If I didn't feel fat, I'd think "Great, I can go out tonight". 

My bulimia worsened when I broke into television presenting in 1981.  TV adds about eight pounds to your appearance so I became even more determined to control my weight.  When I saw a tape of myself on BBC for the first time - introducing the band New Order - I was filled with horror because I thought I looked fat.  I knew the cycle of bingeing and making myself sick was affecting my health but I still managed to function well in my career and no one ever guessed the truth. 
Many people with bulimia say they enjoy the sense of control it gives them.  I can understand this.  If food and drink grab hold of you, you become fat and lose control of your own body.

By the time I was 29 my windpipe was strained and ruptured from all the years of retching.  I'd always softened the pain with alcohol but, by then, I had damaged my oesophagus.  Drinking alcohol stung as though someone had placed a hot poker down my throat.  I had constant stomach cramps from all the bile and acid sloshing around and I was suffering from depression.

Finally my girlfriend suggested I try Chinese acupuncture.  I thought it was nonsense but I knew if I didn't do something, my health would only get worse.   To my amazement it worked.  After regular acupuncture treatment, the physical symptoms of my eating disorder disappeared within a year.  I no longer had the urge to binge and throw up.  Emotionally I felt happier and more balanced.  One day, on the spur of the moment I mentioned I'd suffered from bulimia on a TV show I was presenting.   It was the first time my friends and family found out.  They were amazingly accepting.  Getting my secret out made me feel better and I started hearing from other sufferers too.  I discovered the horrifying lengths they went to - it was only when I listened to other people's stories it dawned on me just how lucky I was to stop.

I don't throw up any more but I still have issues with my weight and food.  Maggie accepts me the way I am but I won't eat anything fattening in front of people.  In fact, I won't touch anything stodgy if I can help it.

I prefer eating on my own and if I want to eat a lot, I'll sneak upstairs.  I am 6ft tall and now weigh just under 12 stone but I'll always feel there are a few pounds to lose.

People don't believe me when I tell them I've been bulimic.  Men, in particular, don't admit that they are concerned with their own appearance but I feel the more it is talked about, the less of a taboo it will become.

Through talking about my bulimia to people I can trust, I feel I can control it.  Confronting it as I did, rather than letting it fester, is the only way forward.

Steve Blacknell

First published in The Daily Express - Jan 2007

Eating Disorder Association NI
28 Bedford Street,
Belfast, BT2 7FE
Phone: 028 9023 5959