'I used to eat frozen food while it was still frozen'
Christmas can be a great time for addicts. You can drink too much, eat too much and nobody notices. But what about the other 11 months? Philo Jacquet binge ate and vomited his way through his teens and twenties. Now he's helping other men to deal with their eating disorders.
- More about bulimia and male eating disorders here.
I came to the UK four years ago because I wanted to study eating disorders and this was the best place to do it.
I never ate normally. Even as a child I compensated for how I was feeling with food. My family wasn't Little House of the Prairie and nobody took any interest in what I ate. I had no idea what was healthy.
I actually think my whole family had an issue with food. My mum and sister were both overweight. We were quite poor and I wonder if eating was a small way of treating ourselves.
I got on OK with my parents though they divorced when I was 11. My mum was a drugs-user. I was a chubby kid and at about this time I started getting teased about my weight which I didn't like.
The first time I vomited I must have been about 12. I didn't do it on purpose. I was ill. But I noticed that as a result I lost weight.
I started weighing myself twice a day and realised that vomiting could make a difference. I started making myself sick more often.
When I was older I got into drinking and drugs like heroin and cocaine. As the years went by, I found that I even when I could give these up these for short periods I could never stop being bulimic. At first I really thought it was the solution. It brought me the peace within myself that I'd never had. I knew not everyone did it but I just thought I was a bit different from everyone else.
I was 18 before I really thought vomiting was a problem. I fell in love and she wanted me off the drugs which i was prepared to try to do.
But eventually, as I always would, I chose vomiting over love.
I discovered you can't have a meaningful relationship when you have bulimia, it's always the third person in the relationship.
The girl disappeared but I kept trying to stop the drink and drugs. I had ten months in rehab. I overdosed. Eventually I stopped the booze and drugs but I was still vomiting everyday. Nobody knew about it. I'd never mentioned it to a doctor or even in rehab. I was ashamed about it, embarrassed.
I found that I was now following the same behaviours with regard to food that I had followed with drugs — lying to people, manipulating them, eating to make myself numb. At 27 I was back in rehab. I was sick of being sick but I still didn't tell them about the bulimia. I was on the Narcotics Anonymous 12 step programme for drug addicts.
Two things happened as a result of this — I got a decent job (I'd only ever had temp jobs before) and began living in a Buddhist centre. It finally made me tackle the bulimia. I already knew about the 12 steps and that they could work so I got in touch with Overeaters Anonymous and saw a therapist.
I knew the food didn't do it anymore for me just like the drugs but I couldn't live without it. Anything sweet I'd eat. I'd even eat frozen food while it still frozen. I'd eat standing on the scale and then vomit to see exactly what difference it made. I could see myself vomiting myself to death. You could see I had a problem now. My teeth were disgusting.
I couldn't afford much therapy but the emotion just poured out. I'd been scared of life, hiding from it. Now I was lost. The only thing I knew was that I had to stop vomiting. One day I did.
I started studying and working in a rehab centre. I think in hindsight that I started at the centre too soon, I wasn't really rehabilitated myself and it was very hard at times. But I also realised that I'd found my vocation.
Philo is now a trained counsellor and works at lifeworks, a private sector treatment centre for addictions, compulsive behaviours and related mental health disorders. He is studying for a masters degree one day a week.
Food is the major mood-altering substance in the world today — it's everywhere, totally legal and relatively cheap.
About 90% of my private counselling practice is to do with eating disorders. A lot of men are like me — they present with drugs or alcohol problems but there's an underlying eating disorder. And men find that difficult to talk about. I thought bulimia was a woman's problem. It's easier for men to admit to drink or drugs, I think. But if you are concerned, please seek help. I wish I had sooner.
The male body is objectified in today's society just as much as women's are and that increases the stress on people with a poor body image. Stress is a key trigger for eating disorders.
The idea that men aren't bothered about their bodies is nonsense — the gyms are full of men who are body-obsessed.
This is the other side of the coin. There are two ways of working off calories — sweating them off in the gym or vomiting them. The preoccupation is the same: weight and shape.
But weight is just the tip of the iceberg for many — perhaps more than we think. It's like having cancer and treating the hair loss. I'm actually bigger now than I was at 27 but I'm much happier with myself these days. I had no problem-solving skills and binged to compensate.
I was sensitive, anxious and had no idea how to live. Now I deal with stress much better — I meditate, walk, have a massage — but it's a constant question. What helped last year might not help this year. Whatever the addiction, fighting it is an everyday battle but believe me, it gets harder everyday you delay admitting the problem and getting help.
Page created on December 1st, 2007
Page updated on March 4th, 2010