Though often overlooked, men are just as able as women to develop any type of eating disorder. Paul Beuttenmuller is living proof that eating disorders and exercise addiction happen to men. After suffering in silence for many years with exercise addiction, anorexia, and purging behaviors, Paul finally sought treatment. Now secure in his recovery, he talks openly and vulnerably about his struggles with “golden boy syndrome” and his unrelenting compulsions toward perfectionism. Paul is a radiant example that recovery is possible when we surrender to the healing process.
Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podcast Addict, Castbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.
Lesson #1: Free yourself from the achievement trap
This one is a nod to fellow warrior Brandilyn Tebo’s book The Achievement Trap, which perfectly describes what Paul struggled with before he found recovery.
The achievement trap is what has you believing that no matter what you accomplish it’s never good enough, and you must achieve more. When you’re in the achievement trap, the goal posts are constantly moving – leaving you feeling like you’re not thin enough, smart enough, successful enough, loved enough. There are so many ways we can slice and dice the wording, but essentially it boils down to not being enough.
“I can pinpoint exactly where it started, when those beliefs really started to come into play. People started patting you on the back, like, ‘Oh you did 15 miles, maybe you should do 16 next time’. So that was kind of where the ‘never enough’ mentality came into play.
And it applied to athletics, it applied to school, and it applied to social relationships. I went through every day [feeling like it didn’t matter] unless I set a new record on something. Even getting a 4.0 GPA, I was like, ‘You can’t beat it. But alright, more extracurricular activities’. So it was that mentality that eventually just weighed me down and reached a point where, after years of beating myself up mentally and physically, the only comfort I had was food.”
Your accomplishments are not who you are.
Your GPA, weight, or calories burned say nothing about your inherent worth as a human. It’s great to have goals and achieve things, and there are healthy and helpful ways to embrace this. But it can be taken to an extreme, and that’s when you’ve fallen into a trap.
Lesson #2: Your recovery comes first
Taking care of yourself isn’t just a nice bonus, it’s a necessity. And it’s not something that’s only for other people, it’s for you too! Your health is important. Taking care of it is one of the kindest things you can do for yourself and for others in your life in order to have a better version of you.
Paul put recovery first in a very brave and significant way when he told his boss he was taking time off for treatment:
“So I went to his office, sat down, and was like, ‘this is going to come off as a bit of a shock, but I’m taking a leave of absence, I’ve already decided I’m doing it.’ And right there, his eyes got a little wider. And I said, ‘it’s because I have an eating disorder’, and his jaw hit the floor. He got to a point where he was a little upset, which I understood. Having just helped me get a promotion, and me being like “alright I’m out”, he said ‘I don’t really understand it. But if this is what you need to do, and this is what will make you better, I’ll support you.'”
Paul didn’t ask his boss for time off for treatment, he told him it was happening. Paul knew it was what he needed and he advocated for himself.
This is a big example, one that takes a lot of risk and bravery. But there are many ways you can do this, both big and small. Maybe you can practice by setting a small boundary, or taking some time for self care. No matter what it looks like for you, you deserve to take care of yourself and your health.
Lesson #3: Vulnerability builds connection
Paul spent so much of his life trying to keep up with the perfect golden boy image. This included pretending that everything was okay on the outside, while hiding his true struggles and pain from the world.
Now, Paul is open about everything he’s been through. And he was surprised to find the deeper level of connection it brought with the people in his life:
“When I was vulnerable, it opened up the floodgates for other people to be open with me, and it strengthened all the friendships I’ve had. Just kind of being dead open has allowed so many other relationships and experiences to come into my life just by letting your guard down, being honest with people and not being afraid to look stupid every now and then, or feeling that you have to be this perfect, ‘everybody-looks-up-to-you’, ‘you’ve-never-embarrassed-yourself’ kind of guy.”
When I was vulnerable, it opened up the floodgates for other people to be open with me, and it strengthened all the friendships I’ve had.Paul Beuttenmueller
There is so much power in letting down your walls and sharing your journey. It invites a deeper and more meaningful level of connection with others. It can be scary to do, but, you don’t need to rip the band-aid off and spill your whole heart out if you don’t feel ready. You can practice opening up in smaller ways, or by writing in a journal. We don’t become ourselves by ourselves, and embracing vulnerability builds connection.