NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Frank Bruni's life-long struggle with food is common story for millions of Americans, but his tale of conquering his eating problem and becoming a top U.S. restaurant critic is not.
The once "baby bulimic" chronicles his battle with food and body image in his memoir, "Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater," which is released by Penguin Press on Thursday.
"It's a story more dramatic and turbulent than the average person and it ends in a place where I dedicate my life to food," said the 44-year-old journalist who became the chief restaurant critic at The New York Times more than five years ago.
Bruni detailed his eating binges and excessive use of laxatives and drugs to shed unwanted pounds. He had a brief bout with bulimia in college when he induced self-vomiting.
With this myriad of behaviors, plus extreme diets, Bruni's weight eventually grew to 268 pounds (122 kilograms) and his waist size swelled to 42 inches.
"We all watched his weight balloon and go down. We watched him be hysterical over it," said writer Elinor Burkett, Bruni's friend of more than 20 years.
Compounding his anxiety about his weight was the fear of having an imperfect body as a gay man.
"My anxiety not having that (perfect) body or not able to have that body easily due to my appetite fed to my binging and purging," Bruni told Reuters.
Poor body image and feeling shame about eating are among the key causes of male eating disorders, experts said.
"If a gay male is single, his body is his currency. It's what gives him power and status," said Brad Kennington, a therapist in Austin, Texas, who has been treating eating disorders for 10 years.
"If you can achieve that perfect body, you can attain power and status," he said.
The turning point when Bruni took control of his weight came when a friend connected him with her trainer in 2002.
Bruni said "watchful" eating and a vigorous exercise regime has allowed him to maintain a healthy weight since then while eating at some of the top New York City restaurants nearly every night of the week.
"I've been the same weight and pant size for the past five years now," he said.
Food binges occasionally crop up, according to Bruni.
"But what had changed was my reaction to a binge. I accepted it as a quirk of that (brain) wiring of my nature," he wrote.
Bruni's stint as a food reviewer whose moves are monitored by restaurateurs and food bloggers will end soon. He will start writing for the paper's Sunday magazine in October.
Bruni will also leave behind the "logistical nightmare" of organizing his meals to ensure he eats enough at a restaurant for his reviews.
He can also stop using aliases and disguises to dodge attention of eager chefs and restaurateurs and simply enjoy meals without the pressure of having to review the food.
"I love the act of simply eating at the table with loved ones and with friends. Now I can do that at home and at a restaurant," he said.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith