One topic our society (myself and this blog included) often forget to talk about are males who develop eating disorders. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 10-15% of American's with anorexia or bulimia are male. In fact, while I was in treatment one of my best friends was a guy who was the same age as me and there were two young boys on the adolescent unit.
Stereotypically, we do not believe men have the same pressures to be thin and fit a certain body type, but that is far from the truth. While women are expected to be model thin, men are taught they need to have six-pack abs and zero percent body fat in order to be accepted. Beyond the pressures from the media, men are brought up differently than women; they are expected to be tough, emotionless, and mentally stable. Some men, however, are wired similarly to women with eating disorders. Those feelings of inadequacy, perfectionism, and anxiety are deeply rooted within males, too.
For this post, I thought I would try something new and share the story of a male friend of mine. As much as I hate to admit it, even I was a little shocked as I read his story. Even after being in treatment with guys and understanding the root of eating disorders, I was surprised at the similarities in our stories. Ben's story touched my heart and helped me realize we are all human.
"Well Kelsi, where do I start? I've had anorexia twice, once when I was 17/18 and then again when I was 34/35. Both started with similar patterns of negative thinking coupled with a lack of love when I was young which later on in life spiraled into self-criticism, withdrawal into myself, depressive moods and an inability to form friendships with family and friends. I felt cut-off, alone and totally isolated. All of these factors would form a confluence into anorexia.
I will focus on the second time I had it because it was fairly recent and I can remember it more clearly. I had left my job in March 2009 which was a difficult decision, but mainly because I was tired and needed a break. As summer turned to autumn I knew something was wrong inside me. I felt hollow and empty. Then in September 2009 I chose to stop taking Fluoxetine (Prozac) and rapidly had a nervous breakdown, exacerbated by overexercise on my bike and tried committing suicide twice before I was taken into hospital in Nov 2009. My weight had dropped significantly after restricting my diet and water overloading.
By Christmas 2009, my weight dropped to its all time low and I was so weak I spent an hour getting out of the bath and kept fainting and collapsing on the floor. By this time I was such a low body weight I was admitted to a men's ward. I had to be sectioned and put on naso-gastric feeding because I refused to eat properly. The section would last 7 months before it was lifted.
To paraphrase I was moved to Cheadle Royal Eating Disorders Unit where they specialize in re-feeding and re-educating teenagers and adults with eating disorders. It was mostly female oriented and there were only 2 other male patients - me and a young male student.
I found it to be a very hard emotional time, punctuated by a lot of crying, feeling institutionalized and just wanting to live a normal ED-free life. I managed to talk to some other female patients but the conversations were always overheard by my caregiver so there was never any privacy. I just wanted to break the fear in me that was continually persistent and despite the counseling and my normal weight recovery, inside I still felt like the frightened little child that had always been buried deep down inside me. Would I ever discover the "real me" and the self-love that ED had always denied me?"
For me treatment was difficult enough, but I cannot imagine being the minority in that situation. Some people might view a male entering treatment for an eating disorder as a sign of weakness, but I think Ben's story shows it takes even more strength and courage than we can even fathom. Not only did Ben recover once in his teen years, but also again in his 30s - such an inspiration. I am pleased to share that Ben has now returned to a happy, healthy life and is continually fighting to find himself without his eating disorder.
The important message to take from this post is that eating disorders do not discriminate and also, more importantly, recovery is possible. Sometimes rock bottom really is the foundation in which we begin to rebuild our lives.