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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Everything changed for Roberto when he moved to study in the United States. The culture was very...
Well I guess like everything started when I went to study abroad in the States. I went after High School when I was probably 18 years old. And well before then I’d never had any issues like with eating or anything at all I mean. And then when I got there I realised like the culture was pretty different and like we have these, well a lot of people have this stereotype about like having that freshman 15, like maybe you have that here in the UK. But it means the first year you go to college or university you gain 15lbs like just, that’s about it like and. So well for me it was actually a big thing like cos well not a big thing at that moment but because first I wasn’t used to American food, and we’ve got, well I, like you see in the movies and everywhere these stereotype that American food is very fatty and very unhealthy.
So that was part of the reason. Then actually the other thing was that a lot of people in America were, I’ve always been like a very athletic person. I loved to play football, tennis, many sports in my home country, but when I went to America I realised that people, well they are very, they tend to exercise a lot, but they’re kind of in another way. I mean like they tend to run or go to the gym a lot, so that was something that I’d actually never think of doing it when I was home so I was like well maybe I should try it because otherwise I know I’m gonna gain some pounds and something.
So that was like the first two things that stuck in my mind. Like the unhealthy food and people like around me exercising all the time, that kind of stuff. So I, in some sense I think that I was going, I had to follow their, their routine. So yeah so well, that was like my, well probably I started thinking that way after my first semester, my first year at Uni. And from then on everything was up like, well I started like doing exercise, I started going to the gym, started to eating better like actually care I actually liked to see what I was eating and that kind of stuff.
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Roberto describes becoming 'addicted' to exercise. He was dependent on his rigid eating and...
My first thing was going to the gym. I felt really good. And really that lasted for a couple of months, three or four months. And after that, well after that everything went down ‘cos I think, about that now that I think back, I probably was exercising too much, like I become too addicted to exercise probably and at the same time like my calorie intake, like I really started worrying about it, I start counting calories. I start worrying a lot about the food labels, the nutrition values. So everything was kind of, I started getting all of the things like, I started to a schedule when I’m, when I have to eat, like when I’m having breakfast, when I’m having lunch, dinner, how many calories should I have in every meal, and that kind of stuff. So a little bit after becoming very, very overwhelmed by all these things and there was up to a point that without like noticing I realised I was in the situation that I didn’t want to accept, but I was like, I was very depending on these, these things. And whenever I ate a lot or ate unhealthy or didn’t exercise I started to feel very anxious.
And actually like from then on all my daily routine and everything was around those two things like exercising and food. I was thinking about food and doing exercise all the time like I was in classes and I was wondering, “Okay I have one hour for doing my homework and then I have to do some exercising and then I have to take dinner and that,” so I don’t know, like I become very dependent on that.