The Sunday Telegraph article on beating bulimia
17th August 1997
The Sunday Telegraph
When Uri Geller suffered from bulimia, it was the solitary nature of the illness that depressed him more than anything. “I had all the classic symptoms,” admits the man whose spoonbending brought him worldwide celebrity in the Seventies. “But whenever I read about the disease in magazines, it was only ever women who were featured. I thought, surely I can’t be the only man on planet Earth who vomits up his food? There are probably millions of men like me who are too embarrassed to come forward.”
Geller has fully recovered from his bulimia and hopes that by talking openly about it now he will inspire fellow sufferers to confront the illness. His second novel, Ella (for which he has just secured a big advance), is more than just celebrity fiction. Drawing on painful personal experience, the work in progress tells the story of a teenage girl with bulimia.
Now 50 and living in Berkshire, Geller looks back on his days of bingeing with a mixture of horror and amazement. If his eating disorder was commonplace, the story of how he overcame it contains elements of the miraculous. It is quite as dramatic, in its own way, as any of his paranormal feats.
How did such a high achiever, noted for his iron selfdiscipline, develop bulimia in the first place? Geller cites a whole range of contributory factors, chief among them the emotional disorientation caused by his overnight celebrity. “I was brought up in a onebedroom apartment in Tel Aviv. My mother worked as a seamstress. Money was tight and the family lived on the breadline. When I became very rich in a very short time, it went to my head completely. I had a very materialistic lifestyle and eating truffles and caviar in good restaurants was part of that.”
Instant wealth can have a vertiginous effect, as others who have gone from rags to riches can testify. In Geller’s case, there was an additional source of pressure. “Unlike a successful actor or sportsman, I had an ability that was controversial. Some people were sceptical about my powers; others treated me like a guru, even a messiah. That put me under constant stress. I was schlepping from one scientific laboratory to another, one television studio to another, one hotel room to another. The strain was enormous.”
Vanity also played a part. A movie producer who was considering making a film about Geller dropped a hint that he might not be camerafriendly: “You’re really quite heavy, you know.” This stung Geller who, although quite chubby at the time, was also a keepfit fanatic. He is a keen jogger and still regards his exercise bike as his most treasured possession, the one he could least do without.
Soon after that conversation, in 1976, came the onset of bulimia. Geller was eating with friends in a New York restaurant and, at the end of the meal, paid a visit to the lavatory. “On impulse, I stuck my finger down my throat and was sick. It felt just great. I thought: ‘Aren’t I clever? I ate all that Black Forest cake and I got rid of the lot!’ ”
It was the start of a secret addiction that was to last for the next 12 months. Once or twice a day, sometimes more than that, Geller would retire to the bathroom to be sick. He planned his visits with military precision, desperate to regurgitate as much food as possible and to avoid detection, whether by his wife, Hannah, or someone else.
“My strategy was simple. Nobody must know about this because it was so ugly. So I would go to the bathroom and flush the toilet or turn on the shower to drown the noise of my vomiting. Sometimes I would even stuff Kleenex under the door to make sure the sound would be muffled.”
Travelling away from home brought special problems and called for different strategies. “When I went into a hotel or restaurant, the first thing I would do is check out the toilet. How far was it from the table? Did it have a thick enough door to blank out the sound?” He remembers pilfering sick bags from the empty seats on aeroplanes and keeping them in his car, so that he could be sick when his chauffeur wasn’t looking.
Frantic snacking, another classic bulimic symptom, became an established feature of his life. Geller would send his secretary out to buy enormous boxes of chocolates, scoff the lot, then sick them up 10 minutes later. “I couldn’t help myself. It was a vicious circle.”
Inevitably, he lost weight, far more than he ever intended. “I looked like one of those old black and white photos of concentration camp survivors. I was getting weaker and weaker. The vomiting had become addictive. It had overpowered me.” There were anxiety attacks, too, and moments of physical and emotional collapse when he thought he was going to die.
In another alarming development, he became incapable of making himself sick by sticking a finger down his throat. He used a toothbrush instead, but would injure himself in the frenzy of vomiting and spit up blood. “I remember looking at myself in the mirror, with my bloodshot eyes and my bulging veins, and thinking, ‘Who is that freak?’ I felt ashamed of myself.”
If the symptoms were striking, the cure was nothing short of sensational. Returning one afternoon to his Manhattan apartment, Geller was so weak that he could hardly open his car door. He eventually hauled himself out on to the pavement and stood there for a few moments in silence. In his mind, there was complete turmoil.
“It is very hard to describe what happened to anyone who hasn’t been through something similar. I can only compare it to those neardeath experiences people have when their whole life flashes before them. In those few seconds, everything that had happened to me seemed to pass before my eyes in extraordinary detail: moments of pain, moments of pleasure. Maybe it was some sort of sign from above. I just knew, quite suddenly, that if I didn’t stop the vomiting, it would kill me.”
What followed must have astonished even the blasé residents of Manhattan. Geller stood rooted to the spot and shouted at the top of his voice: “One. . .two… three… STOP!” In one supreme effort of will, he had conquered his addiction. His bulimia was cured. He had vomited for the last time.
By what hidden processes of the brain was this remarkable triumph of mind over matter achieved? Other bulimics, other addicts, have gone cold turkey and, by a conscious decision, stopped destructive behaviour patterns in their tracks. But Geller – not surprisingly, for his whole life has been a journey into the paranormal – sees something more significant in his experience than a sensible decision taken on the spur of the moment.
He quotes Einstein’s dictum that people only use about 10 per cent of their brain. “We all have untapped mental powers and, if we could only find some way of releasing them, we would be able to do an extraordinary amount of good. What happened to me on that pavement in Manhattan was a tiny miracle. I found an extra energy from somewhere which enabled me to eradicate the demon that was making me do all those terrible things.”
Was that energy peculiar to him, I wondered, or did he think other people had similar powers? After all, there must be thousands of people who have tried to copy his spoonbending trick, using every ounce of their psychic energy, and had nothing to show for their efforts but straight spoons.
“Not everybody has psychic powers,” says Geller. “But most people have potential which they never realise. That was why I told the world about my bulimia. I wanted to say to fellow bulimics: you can stop it now by triggering the hidden power that I triggered. And it doesn’t stop with bulimia. There’s no reason in principle why that same healing energy shouldn’t be used to cure other diseases, eradicate viruses, even slow down the ageing process.”
A vegetarian who follows a strict diet and exercise regime, Geller has never been healthier nor more successful. In addition to his writing, he is the publisher of Uri Geller’s Encounters, a monthly magazine of the paranormal.
The Uri Geller who threw up in bathrooms has been laid to rest. But he will not be forgotten. If Geller has his way, he will stand as an emblem, not of weakness, but of the will to conquer weakness.
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