Belfast Telegraph

Bulimia killed our boy ... now we want to help other men with eating disorders

By Michelle Smyth

Eating disorders are usually seen as a women's issue.

But one Northern Ireland mother is trying to raise awareness of how it can also be very much a male problem.

Pamela and Frank Nugent's son Laurence died on September 30, 2009, at the age of 24. The Carryduff man had been suffering from bulimia for eight years.

His death certificate was inconclusive as to the reason for the heart failure that led to his death. However, Pamela has no doubt that it was a direct result of the years of abuse the bulimia had inflicted on his body.

The mother explained that Laurence's problems began in his teens. However, he only admitted he had bulimia a year or so before he died.

"Laurence was a healthy child and an outgoing teenager who lived for football. We were a normal family and then all of a sudden we were thrown into the depths of despair.

"At first we didn't understand why Laurence was eating a lot and losing weight, but gradually over time we realised that Laurence was throwing up his food at least 25 times per day," Pamela recalled.

"We didn't know what to do about it. Our life was further torn apart by three suicide attempts which were linked to his depression ... Our life was a living nightmare – we would be coming home from work wondering if Laurence would be alive or dead when we got home."

Pamela said that trying to talk to Laurence about his problems was "no use".

"It was also nearly impossible to get him to go to the doctor; it's not a mannish thing to do. When we did get him there, the GP was virtually no help. He was offered gym membership. There was just no understanding there at all," she said.

Pamela revealed that, ironically, Laurence started to show signs of improvement in the months before his death.

"He had been undergoing NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) therapy and had been showing promising signs of improvements mentally. However, it seems the strain bulimia had put on his body was too great and Laurence's heart eventually gave in.

"We tried every trick in the book – building his self-esteem, trying to scare him off what he was doing, empathy ... nothing could save him. We brought him to an eating disorders group but he wouldn't go back because he said there were too many women there and that there was nothing wrong with him," Laurence's brother Chris recalled.

Now the Nugent family has set up The Laurence Trust in a bid to raise awareness of eating disorders and related issues in young men in Northern Ireland.

So far, they have raised over £4,000 through fundraising nights and running the Belfast Marathon last year.

Chris said the family plans to double their fundraising this year and use the money to eventually set up an advice website and an awareness and support group in Belfast.

"Something good has to come out of the powerful suffering our son endured," Pamela said.

"We want to raise awareness of eating disorders in young males and hopefully take away the stigma attached to it.

"We want to provide a service to young men so that they don't feel ashamed of themselves or that they have to hide."

According to Eating Disorder Association NI, about 10% of people diagnosed with an eating disorder are male.

Ann McCann, founder member of Eating Disorder Association NI, said Northern Ireland is continually trying to catch up with services in the rest of the UK.

"There are specialists but people only tend to be referred to them once they are quite seriously ill," she explained.

"We need people to get help before they are in the grips of an eating disorder because once it gets to that stage it is much more difficult for them to recover."

A spokesman from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust said there are "absolutely no differences" in how services are provided to male and female patients who have eating disorders.

For more information on The Laurence Trust log onto

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