Eating disorders


Age at interview: 20

Brief outline: During his studies in the United States, Roberto became obsessed with exercise and eating. He had a few counselling sessions but mainly through his own commitment he is now overcoming the issues and is determined to be back to the person he used to be.

Background: Roberto is an exchange student from South America. He is 20 and lives in halls of residence.

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Roberto says he never had any issues with food or exercise when growing up. At 18, he moved from his home in South-America to study in the US. There he experienced a completely different culture; the food was different, more “fatty and unhealthy”, people paid much attention to their eating and also exercised in a completely different way to what he was used to.
By the time of the second semester, Roberto was exercising too much and, at the same time, started worrying about his food intake. He started systematically counting calories and planning rigorously what he would eat and what exercise he would do on a daily basis. Roberto had always loved sport, football, tennis, running, but whereas before he had always done sport to have fun, he was now doing it to burn calories. Before he noticed, Roberto says he had become “dependent” on his routine and would get anxious if he wasn’t able to follow it. He was thinking about food and eating all the time and it became all-consuming. 
When Roberto realised his personality was changing, he knew something was wrong. He had always been outgoing and sociable but was becoming isolated, not wanting to go out or see his friends. He went to see a college counsellor who arranged him to be seen at an eating disorder service for free. He had few counselling sessions and also got help with putting together a meal plan which he found helpful. He describes the support he got helpful but not sufficient for what he would have needed.
After completing his studies in the US, Roberto moved to the UK to study for a year. During the few months he has lived in the UK, he says things have improved and he is in the process of overcoming his problems; he is now eating a much more varied diet and he also enjoys eating in the dining hall with others. He stopped calorie counting and weighing himself. Roberto says he is “desperate” to be the person he was a couple of years ago and knows he can do this but it won’t happen overnight.
Roberto is very close to his family and the hardest thing about living abroad has been being away from his family. Roberto hasn’t wanted to tell them about his problems because he doesn’t want to worry them. Roberto would want to see more support and information for people with different kinds of problems with eating, not just those who restrict. He has not found helpful information for those who do eat larger meals but who feel the need to exercise obsessively.


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