Male experiences of an Eating Disorder

Here we have the full accounts of the male stories of an eating disorder that we shared as part of our Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2020 work.

James Downs

Living with an eating disorder from the age of 15 has had a profound impact on my life and the way I relate to the world around me. From stopping me from attending school for my A-Levels and not being able to go to university when I was 18, to having to leave jobs and finding myself in financial difficulties, the eating disorder stripped away my opportunities as well my health. One of the hardest things about having struggled with eating problems has been feeling so alone when I haven’t been able to participate in life in the way I would have liked. My world became so much smaller, and so much safer in a way. But it was a false sense of safety as I started to get into real danger with my physical and mental health. I still struggle every day with food, eating and body image, but I have tried my hardest to rebuild my life outside of the eating disorder whilst having compassion for myself in recognising how hard it is to seek help and keep trying to recover.

One of the greatest powers of an eating disorder is how lonely and isolated it can make you feel. I would tell anyone experiencing problems to try and talk to someone that they can trust. Reach out to a source of support that is going to provide you with a listening ear without judgement. Seeking professional help can be really hard, and it is a sad fact that many people do not get the responses that they need when they do go to the GP for example. But remember that it is not your fault if you don’t get offered support, that it isn’t because your problems aren’t serious or real enough.

It was extremely difficult for my family to watch me decline in my health and my mental state when I was first struggling with eating problems when I was younger. They weren’t offered any support from services and I always felt so guilty for thinking that I was putting them through so much pain. I know now that I wasn’t to blame for being unwell, but it did make family relationships difficult, especially when conversations around food could descend so quickly into power struggles and outright conflict. I have found it vital to build up a good support network of friends who are there for me, and who don’t assume I am OK just because I look OK on the outside. I haven’t always had that, and it makes the world of difference. I have often been in difficult relationships and one part of recovery has been recognising when devotion to another person’s needs gets in the way of looking after yourself.

I accessed specialist eating disorders services over 6 years after being diagnosed with anorexia. Many things have assisted my ongoing recovery, but having Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) was the first step towards getting to a stable place from which to work on building the life I want. Before DBT I was extremely dysregulated with my emotions and used food as a way to cope with the chronic distress I was experiencing – to the point that it was very dangerous for me. Working with a specialist therapist to find ways of replacing the powerful role food had in my life was invaluable, and all the progress that I made at that time was rooted in the fact that I had such a positive and trusting relationship with her. She held the hope for me when I completely lost it, and challenged me to go beyond my small zone of comfort when I had the strength to move forwards. I will always be grateful to her for kick starting my recovery journey and showing me that I am worth having a happy and healthy life by sticking by me through really difficult times.

When I was first diagnosed, I remember feeling uncertain about what would happen next. I felt quite scared that new and unfamiliar people would now rush into my life and try and take away the one way I had of coping with things. I found it difficult to start trying to change when I felt like I wasn’t being offered many alternatives to coping with my emotions, and it took a long time to find the support that I felt resonated with me and helped me to look at how to cope better rather than just avoiding damaging behaviours.

I think that people can find eating disorders very difficult to understand – even health professionals. At times I have felt like I was viewed (or described) as a “manipulative” patient, who did not want to get better, and that felt blaming. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to get better – I didn’t know how, and if I could have done it on my own I would have. I was scared of changing and needed a lot of support to do so, and I think that people find it too easy to judge sometimes, especially when it comes to food and eating.

Being a male in eating disorders services can sometimes be really difficult. I often found that services were quite feminised, with inspirational quotes around the place aimed at women and literature talking about how your periods will change with eating problems. I didn’t really feel like I fitted in, and hardly ever did I see a male patient or member of staff. That was quite alienating for me at times when I already felt really alone with my eating problems.

I think that the general public and health professionals, in particular, need to be aware that eating disorders happen to all kinds of people, not just one stereotype. We need to broaden out our ideas about who can be affected, including amongst different cultural groups and ages. It should be normal to consider that a man can get an eating disorder, and there should be treatment available that includes anyone and everyone who might find themselves struggling with eating, for whatever reason.

Ken Capobianco

I have said this before to others who have asked me, but my struggle with anorexia destroyed everything in my life. I suffered from severe anorexia for 30 years while writing for The Boston Globe and teaching at Northeastern University after getting my master’s degree in literature. I turned down job offers across the United States because I thought the move would kill me. It was impossible to have a sustained relationship with a woman because I couldn’t eat, and I alienated my family, which had no idea how to help me as I got thinner and thinner. Over 30 years, I never ate with my parents, even though I knew their hearts were breaking as I sat with them during the holidays. All the things I loved to do–running miles, playing baseball, tennis, football, and basketball became impossible to do, so I stopped.  When I had a stroke at 45, it ended my athletic life even though I worked hard to rehabilitate to the point where I could walk and function normally. Imagine a writer who can’t type with both hands because the initial loss of brain-left hand coordination led to typing atrophy? (I typed my novel and all my stories now with one finger). As I said, it destroyed everything until I recovered, reclaimed my life, and began making real-life connections with new friends and women (I’m now married).

I never thought this would happen when I was diagnosed at 19 and went into denial. I was a heterosexual male. I thought it was a women’s disorder and I was just dieting. It was impossible to get help because every doctor I encountered had no idea how to treat a man. They applied the therapy and techniques they used with women but while they understood the underlying tying threads–control, self-loathing, perfectionism,  depression and alienation–they didn’t understand the ties to my sexual appetite and my individual needs. Too often doctors treat a patient like he is part of a control group with a one-size-fits-all therapy instead of deeply personal, one-on-one therapy fit for a particular individual.

It was brutal to see doctors flailing while looking for answers. Finally, I connected with one doctor, who was direct, honest and didn’t offer happy-talk. He understood ME. After years of therapy, though, I had to stop because it became unaffordable–I was in deep debt–but I retained the ideas he offered and his words and our conversations stuck with me. After I had my stroke and recovered, I began applying what he taught me. I also moved from the gloomy, cold weather of the east coast of the United States (the environment and familiarity definitely contributed to my depression) to Southern California.

I will emphasize that a change of environment does not necessarily result in recovery, but I always wanted to live by the beach and in the sun so the change fulfilled one of my lifelong desires. I could never move permanently because I wasn’t healthy enough. When I moved to the west coast after recovering from the stroke, I made an extra commitment to recover from my anorexia. It was hard–extremely hard–work, but I let go on my own because I knew I wanted a better, more fulfilling life and meet women. If I didn’t change, I would have most likely died. Starving isn’t a choice. Recovering and making a commitment to live is.

I’ve known many women who have suffered from anorexia, and I talk to women now who either struggle or have struggled with eating disorders. I realize we share common personality traits, and we connect on a deep level but their core issues are different than mine. Everyone has core issues that are rooted in their histories. That’s why individual therapy is so important. You have to bury into the past and dig deep into what frames each narrative.

I think more men need to tell their stories to raise awareness about male eating disorders so people understand that eating disorders can happen to everyone and other men don’t feel alone or like they are different. That said, I understand why some men would not. I don’t know if I would have written my novel or gone public if I wasn’t married. It would be impossible to date after telling the world. What woman is going to get romantically involved with a man who had anorexia? I know many people might think it wouldn’t be an issue and women wouldn’t think twice. I can tell you from experience, that is not true. There still is a huge stigma around eating disorders and people are judgmental. I would hope more men tell their stories and open up about their struggles, though. It is up to the individual.

I don’t give much advice because people need to figure out their own stories, but I would tell any male who is struggling to get into therapy. You cannot recover on your own. It was the work I did in years of therapy that helped me recover a few years after I quit. My advice for doctors is to avoid treating patients like case studies and understand the person behind the illness. Tailor the therapy to the person, not the illness. Be direct, be honest, and DO NOT treat the patient like a fragile flower. Your patient is strong and has great willpower. If he starved himself, he can take honesty. He needs to connect with the world, not sheltered from it. You recover by making real-life connections. Some patients may need safe spaces, but some may need to be out connecting with people and finding joy in life with others. The world is not a safe space and once that person recovers, he needs to live and thrive in it. He is definitely strong enough to do it. It’s up to you to gauge what he’s capable of. That’s why personal, attentive therapy is so important.

Rhys Cardy

The impact of my eating disorder on my life has been very strong and has been very difficult to deal with at times. My eating habits have always been a little bit iffy, I haven’t felt a lot of control over my life so my eating was something I felt I could control and I was successful at it for a while before i started to notice things changing, I felt like I was starting to be controlled with things like what sort of food I can and can’t eat, how many calories I can and can’t consume, the obsessive thoughts about food, feeling compelled to exercise to burn whatever calories I have consumed. At its worst I have stepped on my scales upwards of 40 times in a day hoping to see a number I was happy with, I would always set a weight goal and when I reached it I expected to be satisfied but it only fuels my desire to drop even more weight.

My family mostly don’t know about my eating disorder because I am not very close with them, a few of them do but if I’m honest, I don’t think they really understand it which I actually do understand because I struggle to understand it sometimes and I have one so I wouldn’t say my family has been affected by it but my best friend being someone who struggled with anorexia at a younger age, would become very upset when I would deny it and when I would talk about my weight, it got to the point where she didn’t want me talking to her about my weight or food which upset me at the time without really understanding why she felt that way.

I felt quite down about it because my best friend who had suffered with anorexia nervosa in her earlier years would tell me she thinks I have it too but I would always disagree so before my diagnosis I always had that feeling that maybe I do but I just don’t want to believe it. The day of my diagnosis, I went in thinking I’m going to be fine, I’m not going to be diagnosed with an eating disorder and I’ll be fine but that wasn’t the case, the more I spoke about the way I felt about food and my habits, I could feel the reality of my situation becoming more clear, I was beginning to see that I do in fact have an eating disorder I just didn’t want to believe it because I foolishly thought it was a female only issue.

Tom Rebair

Huge! But it varies from person to person as eating disorder is very different for every person. For me it’s the lifelong effects that you can’t change that is biggest impact. The other effects can be just temporary so the effects could be reversed. But the lifelong effects can’t be which is something nobody tells you. For example, I have stunted my height growth, which is something that I can’t change or fix and will always be a lot smaller than what I could have been. I have also increased my likelihood of getting osteoporosis later in life.

Recovery and life are not a linear line, there are peaks and troughs. You will have times where you feel as though you have recovered, but it can always sneak up without you noticing so it’s important to recognise the signs of a relapse. However, that is not to say you can’t achieve a very successful life because you can. You have gone through such tough times, and big mental battles that nobody can take away from you, so be proud of who you are, stand tall and walk strong you got this!

Massive, there is not much support and awareness for families including any siblings or friends. They might see things that could and will stay with them for ever and that can be very hard to process.  Personally, I think that who ever you live with should be entitled to support, whether that is a mother, father little brother or older sister and friends.

Recovery for everyone is so different, so what might help me does not necessary help someone else. For me personally, doing public talks and speaking up about mental illness. I also found volunteering to help loads, it created a “job like feeling and routine at same time. Got me outside the house and connecting with different people. But it was also crucial to have that flexibility, so if I was struggling, I could also be able to stay off when needed.

At the time, I didn’t care, I was in the full control of Anorexia. All I wanted was to be back at home doing what the Anorexia wanted me to do. But I do remember feeling angrier, that some stranger just strolled up and told me I had Anorexia Nervosa, when they didn’t know me at all.  Looking back now though, I was a good thing because I got the support I needed. My family felt like all them things I was doing wasn’t because I was being selfish, it was because I was very mental ill and not myself.

Theirs a stigma to have an eating disorder, but then there’s a much bigger stigma and having an eating disorder and being a male. I wish I could go and hit the person with a wet fish, who started the idea that it’s a female’s illness. It’s NOT! Anybody can get it young, old, male, female, black, white, heterosexuality, bi-sexuality and homosexual. It does not discriminate against anybody.

Not massively luckily but could have been. I was on a general ward longer because of the bed shortage, as for males there is even less beds available than for women as some places won’t accept having both genders together. Many just accommodate women. It’s mad, it’s the 21st century, men and women should be equal in everything. I also found out that due to composition of the human body for a male, they don’t have to lose the same amount of weight women do because they would die. So, for the heath guidance to be focused on a particular weight to get help is stupid and incredibly dangerous. Even at my worst point my BMI was not low enough to qualify for support but my body was shutting down quickly. Thankfully I was lucky enough I have a doctor that fought hard to get me specialised bed for this reason because they were aware of how unwell I was.

More men need to speak up, the bigger amount people the bigger impact we can have to fight, to increase the awareness that eating disorders don’t just effect women. I also believe that the media could show more men with eating disorders in which would help push more men to realise that there’s no shame in speaking up. I haven’t personally but that could be different for someone else. I have talked to women who were just as shocked as some men when I have said but I have also experienced the opposite, it’s about creating that awareness.  But don’t let anyone put you down, you have been battling fights they could never mange you’re the stronger one. Win the war, not the necessary the fight.

Craig Simmons – Personal Trainer’s Story

I’ve been working with a client (we’ll call him Dan), periodically for the past several years.

Dan has an extremely large upper body for his frame and carries excessive weight in both muscle and body fat. I suggested losing body fat ,whilst maintaining muscle mass, to improve his health and appearance but he strongly opposed this for fear of becoming smaller or weaker. Despite his already large size, his main priority when training is to get bigger. He will often pause between exercises to check in the mirror to see how big he looks and often asks me, ‘do you think I’m looking bigger’?

He confided in me that he’d abused steroids in the past but stopped taking them because, in his words, they ‘messed his head up’. Dan also told me that he was attacked outside a night club when he was younger and that this significantly affected his confidence. He still suffers from nightmares and anxiety because of this. It’s my unqualified opinion this this is probably where his fixation with being big and strong comes from. He’s also explained that his self image has affected his relationship with his wife as he is worried that she’ll leave him for someone in ‘better shape’ and he then displays insecure/jealous behaviour.

A Father’s experience of a daughter with an Eating Disorder

This is a personal account from a father of a daughter who has suffered from a severe eating disorder.The thoughts are mine and might be totally different from anyone else’s as the experience is unique.Firstly expect a long haul.When first admitted the hospital talked about gaining 1kg a week.

That’s 10 weeks and it will all be over. How naive was that when 5 years later we were still waiting for an increase approaching that.

Don’t look on the eating disorder as a mental illness. It is,but it’s better just to look on it as an illness full-stop.Its as serious as any physical illness. The treatment is as long ,as traumatic and as draining as any other.

Don’t try and understand the thought process of the illness. It’s impossible. You’ll get nowhere.How can you understand thoughts that are totally the opposite to what is normal.Save your time and energy.

Don’t spend time trying to get your daughter to eat.This might surprise you but we spent years doing this and didn’t get our daughter to eat a crumb of extra food. It just caused stress for everyone with no gain at all.

Over the years I’ve learned that you can only offer support to the sufferer. You can’t help someone who will tell you many times that they don’t want your help.You have got to hope that in the end they find some reason to get better. It has got to come from  them.

I hope this is not too depressing but it is terrible not being able to do what you as a dad would want to do. You just have to keep going and appreciate that you may go through many cycles of hospital admissions but hopefully in the end it can all come right and you can get back to a normal life.Seven years on our daughter is now back working in a stressful job that we thought she would never be able to return to.There is always a worry that it could return because none of us know what the future holds for us so we’ll settle for that. It’s a million miles from where we’ve been.

Alex Aplin

The eating disorder removed the happiness in my life, I became very withdrawing from all my favourite activities and hobbies. The eating disorder changed how I viewed the world around me, I had zero motivation to achieve anything. The best advice I can offer to someone in my position would be to never give up. The very beginning of an eating disorder feels like you’re in a very dark tunnel with no sign of any light. However, being a survivor of this terrible illness, I can reassure to all those suffering in silence that there is a very bright light at the end of the tunnel.

The eating disorder dismantled all my close relationships with my family and friends, it made me at times feel isolated and alone. I constantly wished that someone would find me and reassure me that everything would be okay. Anorexia Nervosa destroys lives only if you let it. My best advice would be seeking and confiding in loved ones, no one should ever have to battle this illness alone. The main thing that aided my recovery was staying motivated and setting small goals every week. For example, eating something that would normally scare you and realising that everything in moderation is healthy. Furthermore, planning and staying focused as this will help you work towards a healthy outlook on life.

At first, I was relieved, I felt happier knowing that finally I was being recognised and was at the beginning of receiving the help I so desperately needed. However, I soon became scared and frightened as I started to quickly realise how difficult and long the journey to recovery would be. The journey of an eating disorder in one word brutal. However, the journey of having an eating disorder in the position of a male is even worse. I was picked on, people judged and claimed that an eating disorder was a female problem and that I should just man up and eat. Hearing these words had a detrimental impact on my mental health, only escalating the issue further making it worse and harder for me to seek help. I strongly advise all the males out there suffering in silence to come forward and seek help, I want others like myself to come forward and raise awareness of how a male’s life is just as equally important as a female.

I strongly believe that if I had gone through this journey as a female suffering from Anorexia nervosa, I would have endured a completely different experience. The issue with being a male is that you’re surrounded by an outdated system, tailored mainly to helping females tackle and overcome the battle of having an eating disorder. I highly believe that more needs to be done to help males with this problem, as I felt like an anomaly and was judged differently to how my fellow female friends were treated.

Firstly, I think more males like myself need to come forward, to talk about their experiences in order to shine light on this ever-increasing problem, that takes so many lives a year. Secondly, more needs to be done to remove this stigma that eating disorders only affect females, it frustrates me that society holds such outdated and incorrect views towards those who suffer from an eating disorder. Finally, more research needs to be carried out in order to change how eating disorders are treated, in order to make it fair and accessible for everyone to receive help regardless of gender without receiving judgment. I felt that females were more understanding and approached the situation of me having an eating disorder in a more caring and consoling way. On the other hand, males refused to acknowledge I had an issue, many would pass judgment and I found it very difficult to connect with anyone, I felt like the only boy in the world that had Anorexia Nervosa.

Ad Fare

My eating disorder has had a negative impact on my life in a number of ways. It has resulted in me losing my childhood and most of my friends, caused me to lose all my confidence and had caused a great strain on family relationships. I nearly lost my life and everything I had. A once confident person, I now have lost all this confidence and have permanent physical impacts from my eating disorder. It has caused a daily battle. However, weirdly I do not see it as all bad. It has made me more compassionate, caring and considerate for others. I now use my experience to try and help others. So yes, it has been massively negative, caused physical and mental pain and made me lose almost everything, but there is always a positive to be seen in everything and hopefully using the experiences I have had, the risks and the downfalls of care, and how bad Eds can be, will be able to help others.

I would advise someone to keep hope. That things can get better. This is something I truly believe. And unless you believe it, and truly believe this, it will never happen. Life is full of challenges and this is one you can win/learn to manage. If you can do this, it will be the greatest battle of your life won. Life is worth living however, and you can still live, and thrive, despite suffering. However, I would say that you must get help, cooperate with that help and do everything you can to try and recover. Split days into hours, hours into moments, and win every single moment. Before you know it you will have made massive progress.

I lost my friendships and my family relationships were severely impacted. MY family have been my rock but they too have struggled no-end. With regards love, I would say what love life? My social circle diminished. I struggle to go out as it does not “fit in” with my routine. It has definitely impacted things however again, the ED has helped me become more compassionate for others and learn to respect everyone, as struggling myself has made me realise how much others also struggle.

Family. Simply they have kept me alive and kept me going, given me hope that I can live and thrive. Also, work have been amazing. I never thought I would be able to work full-time but work has allowed me to do this, be honest with who I am and actually use my experience to help others. I already knew I had one so I did not really “feel” anything. To be honest I felt annoyed it took so long to “categorise” me, as it took them 6 months, by which time I had lost all enthusiasm for recovery at that time. I just wanted them to help me and my symptoms rather than have to categorise me for funding.

“You don’t look ill”, “you look so much better”. Essentially stigma that I do not look like I have an ED. People fail to realise it is not a choice, or a phase. It is an illness, an illness of the mind and not necessarily of the body either. Maybe, however I know many females who also face similar stigma to myself. I feel males are still very underrepresented. Also, treatment and research is incredibly geared towards females. Quote my crisis team once “you are the first male patient we have had so aren’t too sure what to do”.

People with lived experience giving their account of how it has been for them. Saying it is okay to struggle. Awareness of all different types of Eating Disorders, and they are not all just being “too thin”, or underweight. They come in all shapes and sizes and it is a mental illness, and how the mind process emotion around food and exercise. Males say “oh, really?”, whereas females seem to try to be sympathetic. To be honest, I have not really had negative experiences too much when telling friends/colleagues but I know I am one of the lucky ones.

Rich Beckwith

Here is my story. It is long, but my history and trauma have all brought me to where I am today over 37 years. I hope you enjoy it and if you ever want any poems, writings, or any other info please let me know. I truly believe that we need to talk about eating disorders and mental health, especially for males as we all struggle.

May 2017; the day I was able to start retaking my life. My history of an eating disorder and how you can get better.

I have been in recovery for an eating disorder since May of 2017. As a male it took me a long time to come to terms with my ED. I have been diagnosed and in recovery for anorexia, bulimia with restrictive tendency, obsessive exercise disorder, body dysmorphia, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. Not only do I suffer from ED, I also have depression, general anxiety disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. I am basically a Heinz 57 of mental health. There is a major stigma to eating disorders. That they are for girls, that if you aren’t underweight that you don’t have one, that because you exercise A LOT, you are healthy and not damaging yourself.  To truly understand the ride, I need to start at the beginning to evaluate how I went down then up then rock bottom to recover.

My eating disorder started out like a lot of eating disorders. I grew up as a child who had issues with food. I never had a healthy relationship with food and I was never taught the rights and wrongs, the ins and outs of correct eating. Our family used food for comfort during trying times, and a lot of the times were trying. I used food to feel good about myself and to mask the pain and hurt that I was feeling. To hide from the rejection, and the mean comments, to try to band aid my life.

The more I ate, the better I felt, the better I felt the more I ate. I grew up in a place where kids are just mean to each other. If they don’t like something about you, they constantly torment you, and man if you look different, or not one of the “cool” kids, you were basically a piece of crap. I went through hell for being in a bigger body growing up, from other children, family, but worse of all, was the hatred that I felt for myself. Their were many days when I wondered why I ate as much as I did, why I was picked on, why my life was the way it was. There were many a days and nights that I sat in my room thinking about how I could just end it all, how I could just not have to deal with it. I tried and tried to push myself to do it, but for some reason, I never did. I wasn’t going to let other people opinion of me hurt me. I wasn’t going to let my ED win.

I started to just regress and use negative coping skills to mask all of the hurt. That in turn lead to eating more and getting in a bigger body. I was saving from a lot of the pain and hurt when we moved to Texas in 1998. Here, people were nice and friendly. The problem was that I didn’t have any idea how to open myself up to people. I was so scared and scared from rejection and hurt that I had acquaintances, but not friends. So I keep on eating and getting bigger.

To jump ahead, I went away to college in January of 2005, I took some time off after high school and met a great woman and followed her up to school. At the time, I was wanting to go into the criminal justice field. I knew that I had to lose weight as at the time I was 380 lbs. Granted I am 6’5″, but I needed to lose weight. I tried a lot of different “diets” when I was really down on myself. It is sad to think about this now, but I remember something that my dad used to tell me, if you want to lose weight, all you have to do is eat a lot less and exercise more. So on January 9, 2006. I started my first fall.

May plan to lose weight and to exercise is not something that I would recommend to anyone. I didn’t talk to a doctor, or seek advice. I just made rules and with my OCD and my black and white thinking, I thrived on them and they gave me a purpose. At that time, it may have been my first purpose in my 23 years alive. So I set up a meal plan that was thought up from me. I went from eating over 3,000-4,000 calories a day to about 750-800. I tracked every bite of food that I ate. I ate the same thing everyday for breakfast ( 6 spoonfuls of cottage cheese and a glass of grapefruit juice). I usually had a can of tuna, or a meet and cheese roll up for lunch and dinner was usually chicken. To add to that, I decided to buy a recumbent bike. So I started biking at home in my living room after classes. I started at 30 mins a day then 45, then 60, and then it was about milage. Also, I never took a day off. I was doing 7 days a week of 45-50 miles a day and eating about 700 calories.

So naturally, weight was coming off at a quick rate. I was so ecstatic. I was getting the positive attention that I never received before, and that was fueling my ED to keep on pushing and going. I was dropping an average of .5 a lbs a day… When all was said and done, in 10 months, I went from 380 lbs to 235 lbs. I had surgery to remove the skin, but I lost it so fast, and was in a bigger body for so long, that my skin was stretch and would never go back… The beginning of demon two; body dysmorphia.

So after I graduated from college, and got married to the girl I followed up to school, we moved back down to Houston, and I decided to go into teaching. My body dysmorphia keep telling me that I looks bigger, or not perfect, or that I should start to exercise to gain a lot of muscle. I feel that I did this because being in a bigger body as a teen in New Jersey, I never got the attention from girls. I even asked a girl out and she said ” ewww I was just too fat.” So losing weight and getting attention drive me to exercise. I saw the commercials for P90x, and man did that just make the ED so happy. It was a plan, which my ED thrives on, it was structured, (ED), it was going to make me look great ( body dysmorphia).

I ended up completing 4 rounds of P90x, but I didn’t see the results that the commercials said I would, so I figured that it had to be my cardio, so I dropped the p90x and decided to start running. It was at that time that my wife was pregnant, and with my Anxiety, it hates change and the unknown, so not having control over that situation really pushed my ED. I started running and starting doing 5k’s. Of course I didn’t know how to eat and eat correctly so I wasn’t eating enough.

After a move, I really decided to start running, I felt like I was getting attention for posting times of 5ks and man it felt great to be recognized. So I pushed it farther and farther, all the while, doing weight at home 3 days a week for about 45-60 mins. My wife got pregnant again, so I pushed and pushed my running to doing 15 miles twice a week. The problem was that I didn’t have a clue as to how to eat right for running. I didn’t even know how many calories I burned, so I just ate a “normal” for me meal plan of exactly what I ate and it ranged to about 2300-2500 calories. I eventually got down to about 170 lbs.

It was at this time that I started to feel like I had a problem. This was in 2013 and I felt an overall urge to just want to take a break, but I had to follow my routine. I didn’t care if I was sick, it was cold, rain, I had to run and lift weight on those days, I planned my life around it and put it as a top priority, even over my wife and children.

My wife, who is also a teacher, got a job in the Katy area of Texas for the 2014 school year. This is the town that I moved to in 1998, so we decided to move. The problem was that my teaching job at the time was 40 miles away from where we moved. So I had to commute in the Houston traffic from Katy to Channelview. Going right through downtown each time. I left our house at 5:45 AM to get to work at 8:00 and I left work at 4:00 to get home by about 5:45 everyday. i was happy to finally have a 24 hour gym right by my house, but  I hated that commute so much, but the reason I did it was due to the fact that I was getting my student loan paid off by working in a low income school and I had one more year left so I bite the bullet and did it. I started to get down into a major depression. I started to resent my family and my wife. This was also cutting into my exercise plan, and I felt that at the time that was the only thing that would keep me same.

So I decided once again to change around my exercise plan. I looked up information and made a new goal for me. I was going to gain as much muscle as possible, but I didn’t want to gain any fat. As a recovering ED sufferer, it sound so double negative. I wanted to gain muscle without gaining weight. I was terrified to gain anything. I weight myself a lot at the gym. I looked up meal plans, how to cut carbs, how much protein, exercises I should do, and I even did a fitness gene test to help me. So I made a meal plan of something like 300-350 g of protein, 125 g of fat, and 85 g of carbs. I planed all of my food and only ate what I planned. I started going to the gym before I left for work because I would get anxious at work and couldn’t function without going.

My routine started out relatively normal. I would wake up at 4ish and go to the gym on Thursday for upper body and Friday at 4ish for lower body. I also went around 10ish on Sunday and I workout out at home ( lower) on Tuesday after work. The more that the drive kept on going the worse my anxiety became. I didn’t have the necessary coping skills to handle everything that was thrown at me at once. So I started to get really depressed and hate certain things about me and my life. I felt like I lost a home that I enjoyed, we moved in with my parents to save money, and I had this awful commute. So my ED took over. I started to go to the gym for more time. I starting waking up at 3AM and then 2AM to go to the gym, because I felt that was the only thing that I could enjoy. It was like my way of self harm. I would go to the gym and it was never enough. I would try to stay and do so much more exercise. Now all of that exercise, some would say, isn’t that bad, or that much, but add to that I wasn’t eating enough to help my body. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the start of my major downhill spiral.

I have always been seeking approval from others. I have never been able to confident in myself to really open up to people. A lot of that stemmed from issues with my body and being picked on. I gained a lot of attention from my weight loss, and when I started to exercise a lot, people noticed that I looked like I gained muscle. I wanted to feel that feeling so much that I became so black and white that I followed my eating plan and exercise plan to a t. It was like it was the bible and I would never deviate from it. I wasn’t eating enough to satisfy by body, but I was so worried about gaining weight that I never ate more than the allotted calories I had a day. I wanted to gain muscle and not gain weight. That isn’t possible… So what I would do, since I wasn’t eating enough and my body was starving, is I would need to eat. When I ate off of my food plan, I would get so mad and down on myself, that I would restrict. I would restrict carb to start as diets “claim” that carbs are bad. I would then get hungry so I would eat more and then I would restrict. I was such a mess. I kept up this routine until May of 2016.

My father served in Vietnam in 1972-73. He was stationed in Thailand, at one of the bases where they sprayed agent orange. He would go on the perimeter and be covered in the stuff. They were told that it was safe. The Government lied. So my dad suffered from complications of agent orange exposure, which we are still fight the VA about, even after 6 year, died. I had a difficult time with his death as I was up at the hospital all the time with my mom. When we passed away, I buried my emotions and that let my ED take over. My exercise routine got longer and worse. I would use my exercise as a crutch for my emotions. I needed it for many reasons. I needed it for food, for comfort, for stench of belonging and for stability. I just on lifting heavier and heavier weights, and I never drank water at the gym.  My routine went like this… Sunday gym- 4:30-6:45 AM, Monday- Home 3:15-4:40 PM. Tuesday, Wednesday- off, Thursday gym 3:00-5:15 PM, Friday 12:45-3:15 AM. I was also working as a teacher at a high school from 7:00-2:45 Monday-Friday. As you can see, my life revolved around the gym and eating. I put the gym above work, my wife and kids, my health, and my sleep. There were days when I left work early to exercise. I stopped going out to eat with my wife as it caused too much anxiety to not know what I was eating or how many macro nutrients the food contained. I went to the gym even if I was sick, and a broken bone, or when I didn’t feel like going, because I felt that my mood would suffer and my day would suck because I didn’t work out. I started to count down the days to when I was done with exercise on Monday so I could have two days off. I got so anxious on Wednesday evening that I had trouble sleeping because what if the gym was crowded when I went, What if the machines I wanted were used, what if there was someone on a squat rack and I could use it. The exercise and food consumed my mind. I was stuck in such a vicious cycle, I wanted to get off of it, but I was too far down the wormhole that I needed help.

My wife has been my saving grace in all of the trials and tribulations. There are days when I am not sure how or why she stays with me. This journey has not been easy for me, and I am sure that it has been even more difficult for her. For a while, I used to push all of my anxiety about weight and eating on to her. I would get mad at things that she eats, or I would try to get her to go run with me or go to the gym. That wasn’t something that she wanted to do, but I kept trying and pushing. I know that I did put a lot of blame for me ED on her and the move back to Katy and my daily commute. When I wanted to change my food and only eat a certain amount of macros, I had her help me make my food plan every Friday, and I would get frustrated if it wasn’t done by Saturday, even though I didn’t need it until Sunday. She has been by my side throughout all of this, and I really don’t know of any other person who would put up with me or my issues as long as she has.

In May of 2017, my mom was looking up counselors for eating disorders, and came upon a place that was close to us. It was called Harmony therapy group. It was at the time I met the first person who saved my life. When I started going to counseling for an ED, I really didn’t know how bad or how hard it would be. I went to her every week and she told me that I should also see a nutritionist who worked with her group. She was the second person who helped save my life. So I went to each of them once a week and I was making progress with lowering times of my exercise from needing to go for 2-2.5 hours to cutting out 5-10 mins a week. My nutritionist was helping me break away from the mindset that certain foods are “red” or bad. Initially, my list consisted of  good foods were everything on my food plan, and bad foods were everything else. I was working on trying to incorporate some foods into a middle group to try and push the anxiety. They also told me to go and meet with an eating disorder specialist in Houston. She works with a lot of their patients and she can give me the medical side of what/ how much damage my “lifestyle” may have done to my body. there was a chance that she would take away all movement if my body was not healthy enough for it.

I had my first appointment with her on June 19th of 2017. Before that, we took a family trip to Disney world. I was proud of myself as I tried hard to not pick out food to eat before I went to a restaurant, or to let myself eat even though I was not going to my gym. I also had an impression that anything that wasn’t weights isn’t exercise. So all of the walking around Disney was not exercise. I was really proud that in the 10 days, I only went to the hotel gym 3 times instead of the normal amount I did at home. I was also excited to get back home and get back into my routine.

Ever since I started exercising, I have also used it as a coping strategy to fight off whatever feelings I had at the time. I used it for 90% negative feelings ( anxiety, depression, sadness). At the time, I have not learned how to to just exercise for fun and use other skills to fight my feelings. I just never want to feel my feelings, I would just rather bury them down and take them on and then exercise them away. So I was ready to get back home and get back into my routine and enjoy my gym. I also had the upcoming appointment, so I was trying to get in as much exercise as I could before, you know, just in case. So when we got to the airport, I found out that our plan was going to be delayed for a few hours. I was so upset, because that would throw off my exercise as I planned to get home by 7ish and go to the gym. As you can see, I really had my priorities and values straight. lol. Anyway, the entire time we were delayed, all I could think about was the gym and how I was missing my time. The anxiety got so much that when we got home at 1:30, I was not able to sleep or do anything else until I went to the gym. I think it was at that time when I really noticed that I had a major major problem with exercise and I was ready to trust my 3 person team ( counselor, nutritionist, and soon to meet ED specialist.) I was going to give myself completely to this process, I would make it a goal to get better not only for my wife and kids, but for myself.

So the day came, I went to the ED medical specialist. She asked a lot of questions about my past and what I was doing now. About my exercise, and about how much and regimented I ate. She then diagnosed me with bulimia with restrictive tendencies, anorexia, and compulsive/obsessive exercise. I also have body dysmorphia. So when she was doing the medical test, it was discovered that I had a heart tilt and my heart was getting smaller. I had some kidney failure and and some liver damage. It was at that time that I was told that I had to hold off on all movement. That means that I would not have to exercise. It would be like a complete cold turkey. I was going to go from something that was my entire life, to something that I never knew. I was confused, and upset, but I was relieved that I was finally going to get healthy. I just had to find something to do with myself.

Little did I know that my summer of 2017 would consist of some sort of appointment. I would go to counseling 2 days a week, nutritionist 2 days a week, and I would see the specialist once a week. I really didn’t have much to do that summer because most of my free time used to be spent exercising and recovering from my exercise and then being anxious about when I would exercise next. The summer opened up my eyes to a lot of things, and it made me concerned about things as well. I was eating like a “normal” person. I had an alarm set to make sure I ate 3 meals and 3 snacks a day. I had to get over my initial fears about going weight from eating a lot more than I was used to. It wasn’t that I was gaining weight, it was that I was getting back to my homeostatic weight. I was severely dehydrated from my exercise, and I didn’t have enough food to sustain my muscles and my organs, so I had to get back to a healthy weight. There were plenty of times that I felt like giving up, and there were times that I really thought about ending it all because of the anxiety and the mental stress of not being able to deal with the thoughts and the loss. I know that it isn’t the same, but there were times when I missed my exercise and my structured routine more than I missed my father.

The last two and a half years has been a roller coaster, but I can say that I am so much farther along in my recovery. I am working on intuitive eating and I have been getting back into exercise 3 days a week at home and I have been released to exercise at a gym if I really want to. I haven’t yet and I don’t know if I will. I am also working on not being able to exercise if I get too anxious and will use it as a coping skill. I know that recovery is a never ending process and there will always be opportunities to go down a slippery slope. I just have to keep on going.

I have followed along with my plan the my team has given me and I have a always been open and honest during sessions about my food, thoughts, feelings, and exercise. The major themes that have helped me throughout my struggle is that; 1. I learned to trust my team. 2. I have an amazing support system from home. 3. I have not given up because my mind and my body will not let me. I remember that tomorrow the sun will rise and things will get better. You have to keep on riding the wave and remember that with ever down of the wave, there will be a peek. I also really grasped to the idea that having an eating disorder is not about the food, but about the feeling behind the food. 

I still struggle . I have had a breakdown where I was in partial hospitalization due to mental health and eating disorder trauma. I still get stigmatized at work and not asked to go out to eat due to my eating disorder. I have been asked a lot of times if I hate food and that I don’t look like I have an eating disorder. Those comments used to bother me, but now I use them to educate and open the door to others that an eating disorder doesn’t discriminate again age, sex, or body size. 

Sign up for our newsletter

If you would like to receive updates from First Steps Derbyshire about the services we provide for people affected by eating disorders, please sign up here. You can find out more about how we handle your data here.