What is it Like to Be a Male with Eating Disorders?

In my late teenage years and early college days, I remember having a healthy relationship with exercise. I didn’t think twice about what I ate and thoroughly enjoyed a night out with friends. Summed up, I felt healthy, looked healthy, and had fun. Being a male with eating disorders wasn’t even on my radar.

Out of nowhere, I suddenly found myself thinking that a night out meant running a few extra miles beforehand to counterbalance it. A day without exercise meant fewer carbs and only healthy foods at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Eventually, this mentality drove me into the most depressing, self-abusive phase of my life.

The struggle of being a male with eating disorders

For nearly seven years, I restricted food and obsessively exercised. If I had “failed” to restrict or didn’t “work out hard enough,” I’d binge and purge because I felt that I didn’t deserve the meal.

Ultimately, this lifestyle became my way of escaping uncomfortable emotions and refusing to accept the fact that I was a male with eating disorders.

Fear Guilt and Shame

Those miserable seven years revolved around three key feelings: fear, guilt and shame. The fear of not being perfect… of others hating me… of being alone. The guilt of allowing myself to get to this point after being an All State dual athlete and one of the top students in my entire school. And the shame of knowing that I had a disease “that men shouldn’t have.”

The thoughts that ran through my mind were literally torturous. I not only screwed up, I was a screw up. I not only had one lazy afternoon, I was a lazy, worthless piece of crap. I didn’t just eat an “unhealthy” meal, I was an unhealthy slob.

It was this mentality that kept me from living – figuratively and almost literally. It prevented me from being hurt by others, because I was able to hurt myself so badly that anything that others said would be obsolete in comparison. So to keep myself safe, I avoided others and constantly shamed myself. No one else could hurt me except me. And that power was all I would ever need in my eating disorder.

Isolation and Disconnection

Unfortunately, this disconnected my emotions from my true self. It disconnected me from friends and family. There was no way I’d allow myself to be vulnerable because I was afraid of being hurt. Afraid of feeling guilty and afraid of feeling ashamed for letting them see me like this.

As a result of this shame, I isolated myself from those closest to me. I ruined some of the best relationships I had and beat the hell out of myself physically and mentally. I shamed and guilted myself every minute of every day, only spending time with my eating disorder. No one else but me and that nasty disease because no one could know that I – a man – had it.

Being “a strong male”

My concept of being a strong male was being a constantly smiling guy that everyone admired. Someone that anyone could turn to for advice. Someone that was proud, unashamed and social. However, a male with eating disorders shatters those possibilities. And I couldn’t let anyone know that.

Because while I might have looked as great as ever on the outside, the inside of me was absolutely obliterated and shattered into millions of pieces.

By living my life this way, each day was exhausting. Each day began and ended the exact same. Thankfully, through the love and support of some very close friends and family, I found myself at a treatment center to finally combat my ED.

If you’re a male with eating disorders- there is hope.

Little did I know that upon walking inside those doors on the day before my 28th birthday that I’d see other men. When I saw multiple other male clients, the amount of weight that fell off of my shoulders was indescribable. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t a weak man. I was actually surrounded by others in the same situation – with the same feelings – as me. Combined with the rest of the group, both men and women, I learned more in my time in treatment than I ever could’ve imagined.

In fact, as my treatment progressed and I started eliminating beliefs that drove my ED,

I realized that these were actually some of the strongest men I’d ever met.

They put aside their ego and their pride in order to get healthier. And they helped me do the same. I’ll never be able to thank them enough for showing me that a male with an eating disorder doesn’t have to be plagued with guilt, shame and fear.

Not a “skinny girl” disease

An ED doesn’t target any singular type of person. It’s not a “skinny girl” disease like I thought it was when I was younger. I even hate to admit that I once thought that… chalk it up as yet another belief that my ED told me that ended up being a lie. Because as dumb of a belief that is, unfortunately a lot of people still believe it.

Today, I actually take extreme pride in my experience. While the process might have been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, it’s also become one of the proudest accomplishments of my life.

I missed out on a lot in the seven years that my eating disorder controlled me. Experiences, relationships and emotions that simply never happened because I was too ashamed of being a male with that disease.

To any male out there with eating disorders…

So to any other men who might feel guilty… or ashamed… or hating themselves… I want you to know that you’re not alone. There are a lot of others out there feeling the same way. I can say this so confidently because I was one of them. I’ve met several more of them. And we continue to stay in touch because it supports our recovery knowing that we went through hell and back together.

When I was ready to be vulnerable, I quickly learned that a heck of a lot of people were ready and waiting to help because they cared – all judgment free. And once you realize that you’re not in this alone, there is no better feeling and no better path towards the road to recovery.

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