‘My life hit rock bottom when I developed anorexia’

Rian Lloyd

Rian Lloyd

Young Belfast man Rian Lloyd traces the start of his anorexia back to a bad mark in his mock GCSEs.

He had always been a top student at school and was viewed by others as academically successful, however this perceived slip unnerved Rian who was at that time putting a lot of pressure on himself to secure good grades in order to go to university.

‘‘I felt out of control for the first time in my life, so I turned to something I owned and had complete control over, and could always control - my body,’’ says the now 24-year-old.

Rian, who lives in Belfast, says it started with skipping meals - he used to jump from table to table in the school canteen, chatting to friends, pretending he had eaten at the other table.

He used to lie in bed late at weekends so he could skip breakfast and then only have to eat two meals that day.

His mum used to come home and ask what he eaten. He would say that he had had a sandwich, but Rian believes his mum used to go and check the cupboards and noticed none of the food had been used.

Thankfully Rian did do well in his GCSEs and went on to study for A-levels, but increasingly he felt both the pressure of needing to perform well academically to get into his preferred course of Psychology at university and also it was during this phase that he also became more conscious of the pressures put on young men to look a certain way.

Teachers and friends were starting to notice and be concerned but Rian was becoming increasingly secretive and covert in his behaviour.

‘‘My biggest wish when starting university was to secure self-catering accommodation so I could continue to control my food intake,’’ he says.

Just before starting university Rian went to see his doctor who referred him to the local eating disorder service. Regrettably, at that time Rian was not ‘thin enough’ to get support from the service due to their criteria. He took this as a sign of failure in terms of his own food control.

It was at university without parental supervision that Rian’s anorexia was really able to get a grip.

‘‘My life became obsessed with measuring portions, counting calories and obsessing over food, to the point where I collected hundreds of recipes and recipe books containing stuff I would never allow myself to eat.’’

He used to cook his small meals in one kitchen and go to eat with friends in another so nobody saw the obsessive rituals he put himself through to weigh up and prepare miniscule meals, all of which he ate in a bowl so it disguised the contents.

‘‘I even baked cakes and buns, which I never allowed myself to eat. Instead I gave them to classmates, a wonderful way to fool those that might suspect.’’

At its worst, Rian was only allowing himself 400-600 calories per day.

His close friends seemed to notice, and yet they didn’t,

‘‘I vividly recall one friend catching sight of me in my vest and saying ‘You look like something out of Auschwitz’.’’

In his disordered thinking, Rian took this as a compliment because to him this was a sign that his food control was having an impact.

If anyone ever said he looked well or healthy, the same disordered thinking would drive Rian to punish himself by restricting his calorie intake even more as he saw himself as having failed, such was the mental confusion he was in at this stage.

During the early days of university, Rian’s whole life revolved around food control, labelling his tiny portions of food in the freezer with the calories each meagre meal contained, measuring and re-measuring portions for hours on end, even making excuses to constantly visit friends who had scales in their bathroom so he could weigh himself.

‘‘My life had reached rock bottom. I had lost so much weight and when I went back to the eating disorder clinic I was diagnosed as ‘severe’ (the four levels are mild, moderate, severe, extreme) so finally I met their criteria for help.’’

Rian was on the verge of having done significant damage to his physical health and was caught just in time. So distorted was Rian’s thinking that he can recall being disappointed when he learnt there was a classification worse than his own, again, in his mind, he had failed in the control of his food intake by not reaching this highest level of classification.

‘‘After significant amounts of counselling and medical support, I have managed to turn the condition around and I am now two years down the road to recovery.’’ he says.

Rian, who is originally from Derbyshire in the East Midlands, moved over to Northern Ireland nearly two years ago after finishing his degree.

Just over a year ago he started work for the mental health charity Beacon at their Hope House day centre in Twinbrook.

So many people must have seen Rian getting thinner and thinner, yet nobody spoke up, Rian firmly believes to this day that is because people just don’t compute men as being able to develop anorexia.

But as he can sadly attest:‘‘Men do develop eating disorders too, and for any young man out there who may be in the midst of the illness there is hope, you can recover, you can move on, but you need to reach out for help, and when you do, the help needs to be there for you,’’

Rian Lloyd traces the start of his anorexia back to a bad mark in his mock GCSEs.

He had always been a top student at school and was viewed by others as academically successful, however this perceived slip unnerved Rian who was at that time putting a lot of pressure on himself to secure good grades in order to go to university.

‘‘I felt out of control for the first time in my life, so I turned to something I owned and had complete control over, and could always control - my body,’’ says the now 24-year-old.

Rian, who lives in Belfast, says it started with skipping meals - he used to jump from table to table in the school canteen, chatting to friends, pretending he had eaten at the other table.

He used to lie in bed late at weekends so he could skip breakfast and then only have to eat two meals that day.

His mum used to come home and ask what he eaten. He would say that he had had a sandwich, but Rian believes his mum used to go and check the cupboards and noticed none of the food had been used.

Thankfully Rian did do well in his GCSEs and went on to study for A-levels, but increasingly he felt both the pressure of needing to perform well academically to get into his preferred course of Psychology at university and also it was during this phase that he also became more conscious of the pressures put on young men to look a certain way.

Teachers and friends were starting to notice and be concerned but Rian was becoming increasingly secretive and covert in his behaviour.

‘‘My biggest wish when starting university was to secure self-catering accommodation so I could continue to control my food intake,’’ he says.

Just before starting university Rian went to see his doctor who referred him to the local eating disorder service. Regrettably, at that time Rian was not ‘thin enough’ to get support from the service due to their criteria. He took this as a sign of failure in terms of his own food control.

It was at university without parental supervision that Rian’s anorexia was really able to get a grip.

‘‘My life became obsessed with measuring portions, counting calories and obsessing over food, to the point where I collected hundreds of recipes and recipe books containing stuff I would never allow myself to eat.’’

He used to cook his small meals in one kitchen and go to eat with friends in another so nobody saw the obsessive rituals he put himself through to weigh up and prepare miniscule meals, all of which he ate in a bowl so it disguised the contents.

‘‘I even baked cakes and buns, which I never allowed myself to eat. Instead I gave them to classmates, a wonderful way to fool those that might suspect.’’

At its worst, Rian was only allowing himself 400-600 calories per day.

His close friends seemed to notice, and yet they didn’t,

‘‘I vividly recall one friend catching sight of me in my vest and saying ‘You look like something out of Auschwitz’.’’

In his disordered thinking, Rian took this as a compliment because to him this was a sign that his food control was having an impact.

If anyone ever said he looked well or healthy, the same disordered thinking would drive Rian to punish himself by restricting his calorie intake even more as he saw himself as having failed, such was the mental confusion he was in at this stage.

During the early days of university, Rian’s whole life revolved around food control, labelling his tiny portions of food in the freezer with the calories each meagre meal contained, measuring and re-measuring portions for hours on end, even making excuses to constantly visit friends who had scales in their bathroom so he could weigh himself.

‘‘My life had reached rock bottom. I had lost so much weight and when I went back to the eating disorder clinic I was diagnosed as ‘severe’ (the four levels are mild, moderate, severe, extreme) so finally I met their criteria for help.’’

Rian was on the verge of having done significant damage to his physical health and was caught just in time. So distorted was Rian’s thinking that he can recall being disappointed when he learnt there was a classification worse than his own, again, in his mind, he had failed in the control of his food intake by not reaching this highest level of classification.

‘‘After significant amounts of counselling and medical support, I have managed to turn the condition around and I am now two years down the road to recovery.’’ he says.

Rian, who is originally from Derbyshire in the East Midlands, moved over to Northern Ireland nearly two years ago after finishing his degree.

Just over a year ago he started work for the mental health charity Beacon at their Hope House day centre in Twinbrook.

So many people must have seen Rian getting thinner and thinner, yet nobody spoke up, Rian firmly believes to this day that is because people just don’t compute men as being able to develop anorexia.

But as he can sadly attest:‘‘Men do develop eating disorders too, and for any young man out there who may be in the midst of the illness there is hope, you can recover, you can move on, but you need to reach out for help, and when you do, the help needs to be there for you,’’