Last summer, I posted a blog entry about my struggles with body image and bouts of anorexia. So often I have felt there is no one to talk to about the life-long struggle. Media reports largely portray eating disorders as a girl thing. So what the hell is wrong with me? Suck it up, be a man and eat a steak. (As an aside, I hear some gimmicky Caveman Diet is all the rage now. Me disgusted.)
It felt affirming to spot this headline in the Vancouver Sun today: “Eating disorders in men more common than many believe.” For a gay guy long regarded as effeminate and having a girly disorder, I felt a little less freakish. The article would have done wonders had it been published thirty years ago. Another overused expression comes to mind: better late than never.
It’s a lean, low-calorie article, “lite” on analysis, but the main facts are potent. “[S]urprisingly large numbers of men” experience eating disorders. (Yes, we’re still surprised men battle bulimia and anorexia.) One-third of anorexia nervosa and one-fourth of bulimia cases involve males. Those stats are significantly higher than the five percent I’d previously read. Unfortunately, due to the continuing view that eating disorders are a female concern, men are less inclined to seek treatment or to talk about their experiences. The media needs to step up, helping males understand that eating disorders are a guy thing, too. Physicians need to increase their own awareness the incidence of eating disorders among boys and men. Seventeen years ago when I went to my family doctor to get help during a recurrence of anorexia, he didn’t know where to refer me; in fact, he did nothing but tell me to eat. I left his office feeling shocked and even more alone.
The article confirmed things I’d suspected about my own issues with an eating disorder. First, it stated that an eating disorder “can be triggered by a stressful life event, such as undiagnosed other psychiatric conditions, sexual or physical abuse, trouble in school [or] job loss.” Indeed, my two lowest points in battling anorexia came first when I took on too big a load in university and second when I quit my law career and moved to British Columbia, taking on part-time work that did not pay the bills.
While the article acknowledged that some males develop eating disorders after experiencing bullying or teasing, it also affirmed my own reasoning. “An eating disorder can become a coping mechanism, a desperate grasp for control at a time when it feels as if their lives are unravelling.” Anorexia has been a way of asserting control internally at times when I felt I had no control over external situations.
By understanding the triggers that aggravate anorexia, I’ve been able to avoid another downward spiral. Once I recognize pressures that make me particularly vulnerable, I open up to friends, stripping away the secretive nature of anorexia. When eyes are watching, it becomes harder to starve myself.
It is my hope that this is the first of many articles to take away the stigma associated with male eating disorders. It is enough of a burden to battle anorexia or bulimia. Guys shouldn’t have to feel they are alone.