When I was asked to write what it’s like to be a male with an eating disorder, I really struggled. Not necessarily with the disorder itself, but with what to write about, as it’s a new experience for me putting this down in words.
There was such a variety of feelings and emotions I went through when I realised I had a difficulty with food, far too much to write about here – so with that in mind I want to focus on the struggles I have as a man to feel accepted as someone who lives with an eating disorder.
What I mean by that is acceptance both within myself and by others. I’ve learnt over time that there are many forms of eating disorder, not just the ones which are commonly represented in the media.
Take mine for example, due to the way it manifests itself and my lifestyle, I don’t have an official diagnosis. However, it affects me just as much as anyone else who has a diagnosed eating disorder. When I was younger eating disorders were always portrayed as a young female issue. This probably couldn’t be further from the truth and likely affects as many men as it does women under the surface but as men, we tend to talk about it less.
It’s no wonder men are being affected by eating disorders and not really talking about it. We still live in this ‘keep fit’ culture of going to the gym and eating a certain way to obtain this supposed dream look. This comes off the back of the culture I grew up in where a ‘man had to be a man’.
These constant pressures on men can lead us to negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves when we can’t achieve this unrealistic image we feel we have to strive for. There’s often a pressure we don’t even realise is there, as years of background noise gives us these deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy.
Things are definitely changing though, and men are being encouraged more to talk about our mental health, but it’s going to take time. I went through years of not talking and suffered in silence. When I did open up, it was the moment I finally sought help and started recovery. There’s nothing wrong with talking about your struggles and being honest with yourself is one of the biggest (and scariest) steps to take, but I’m so glad I did.
I thought recovery was going to be a long, lonely process but I was wrong. As soon as I started to access help and support at First Steps I came to realise and learn how my eating disorder affected me and others. I realised I wasn’t alone and even if I’m not always ready to talk to a loved one, I can talk at First Steps.
Thanks to First Steps I’ve grown to understand my eating disorder and how it affects me and even if I do have bad days, I have First Steps as my safe place to go and talk with others who are going through similar experiences. Most importantly I’ve now found acceptance, understanding and love not just from others but for myself.