“I can’t have an eating disorder, I’m a guy,”
That’s what I stupidly told myself for years.
My name is Ben, I’m twenty-nine-years-old and I have been living with anorexia nervosa for twenty-one-years, and it is only recently that I am starting to wonder if my eating disorder is an extension of my dissatisfaction with myself.
For a long time I struggled to understand why I was the way I was. I am fortunate in that I’m naturally slim. I’ve also always been active, whether in sports, gymnastics or dance. I also never looked at myself as having purposefully starved myself to keep my weight down, but on reflection it does appear whenever I approached a certain weight, I would begin to cut back on what I was eating – which was never that much. I also never considered that I could ever possibly have an eating disorder... because I’m a guy, and men having eating disorders is hardly ever spoken about. The focus always seems to be only on women. Perhaps that is starting to change now – I certainly hope so.
I first recall having a problem with food when I was eight. After school I would throw my uneaten packed lunches away into my Nan’s rubbish bin. When my family cottoned on to this, they informed my primary school who begun keeping tabs on my lunches – even when I begged teachers and friends to lie for me. At secondary school I offered my packed lunches to friends who never questioned why I wasn’t eating them.
I’ve since been told by one psychiatrist that the cause may be subconscious, after watching my mother diet and weigh herself every morning when I was a young child – and that could have played a part.
As I’ve gotten older, I feel anorexia is a way for me to punish myself. A different kind of self-harm. For example, my most recent couple of relapses have taken place during incredibly rough breakups. My weight loss was sudden, and a lot of those close to me put it down to the stress or the way I had been treated in those relationships. I personally think that it is because I felt like I wasn’t good enough for those people, and therefore I punished myself by making myself ill.
One of the weirdest things I’ve experienced living with anorexia, was the fact that no one told me. I have been to the doctors several times since I was eighteen to get help for it, but they only ever said I had an “eating disorder.” They never gave it a name until three years ago. It was a doctor at a hospital who finally said “So you’re an Anorexic” after I described how I’d purposefully starve myself. The moment someone gave it that label, it lost the biggest grip it had over me.
My battle against it has been going better since joining a gym, and getting myself a personal trainer. I’ve had two fantastic guys, Joe and Chesney, who have worked incredibly hard with me not only on a programme to get me to bulk up, but also on making sure my appetite is healthy. Now I make sure I eat at least two cooked meals a day – instead of the one or worse none I used to eat.
I’ve taken to using social media to document my recovery and my relapses in my attempt to get people talking about eating disorders, and in particular eating disorders with men.
The other day over lunch, when I told some colleagues I was writing this, one asked me, “Are you now recovered from it?” and the truth is, I shall never recover from it. There will always be this demon on my shoulder, and when times get hard it makes the likelihood of relapse greater. Fortunately now I have a phenomenal support team around me, both in friends, family and at work.
The battle goes on.'
Author credit: Ben White