There are many misconceptions surrounding eating disorders and mental health in general. Living with one of the various types of eating disorders is an illness not a character flaw or weakness. The focus should be on getting help, the knowledge you are not alone and finding your peace.
Beginning this process I wanted to know what men had experienced. Through my own journey to wellness I know how difficult it can be to find good help. So I began reaching out to those men who have lived with an eating disorder in attempts to really get to the heart of what their experiences were.
Through this process I discovered, N.A.M.E.D, The National Association for Males with Eating Disorders (USA). They are the only organization solely focused on male eating disorders. They saw the gap in care and filled it in an amazing way. Men can find there the information needed and have the ability to reach out in a real way. Established only 10yrs. ago, in 2006 by Christopher Clark N.A.M.E.D. has been an amazing source for many men on their journey to wellness. (http://namedinc.org/)
The most common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and binge eating disorders. Any of these can affect both women AND men. Anorexia for example is not a “women’s trouble” it is a very real internal struggle where the individual living with this disorder has an obsessive fear of gaining weight, an unrealistic perception of body image and typically will refuse to maintain a healthy body weight. These disorders can be life altering and greatly deplete the individual’s life expectancy, multi organ failure, heart difficulties, bone loss, and infertility. This is true for any individual struggling with Ana (social media has taken to using this slang when describing Anorexia Nervosa) Eating Disorders commonly occur with other conditions these include: depression, self-harm or even substance abuse problems. This is not always the case, but common.
According to the Eating Recovery Center of Denver Colorado (https://twitter.com/EatingRecovery) 1/3 of ED sufferers are male this has doubled in the last 10 years. Men are underdiagnosed, under treated and misunderstood in many cases; partly because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, but additionally due to the common thought that eating disorders are a “women’s problem.” The majority of men I have spoken to feel this was one of their greatest shames when seeking help.
Gary Grahl, author of Skinny Boy, portrays the ups and downs of his life living with anorexia nervosa. We conducted a short interview with him this past week to get information circulating. You are not alone. There is hope and there is help available to men struggling with an eating disorder.
Gary Grahl: Skinny Boy…
- So, what was it like for you growing up as a male with an eating disorder?
I had caring parents and siblings. We got along quite well. The main issue was that we weren’t a family that shared genuine emotion. Conflict was avoided. Real problems were not talk about openly. Even though I was somewhat popular (in school) and had a great deal of athletic talent. I grew up with little self-confidence or direction. I was a mess with depression, obsessive compulsive behavior, self-injury, suicidal ideation and of course Anorexia Nervosa.
- How is it you came to get help? Were your family and friends aware of your struggles?
My mother heard a commercial on the radio about anorexia. She couldn’t believe that so many of the symptoms I was experiencing fit the anorexia description. She made an appointment for me at our local hospital psychiatric unit. I was hospitalized immediately.
- What advice would you give yourself if given the opportunity?
It’s okay to take risks and explore new opportunities and interests. It’s okay to make mistakes while trying new things. People respect you much more when you are genuine and imperfect, even if they don’t always agree with your opinions and decisions. Just because someone disapproves or disagrees does not mean you are wrong or unlovable. You are not responsible for someone else’s feelings or reactions. You need to be responsible FOR yourself and TO others, not the other way around. A great deal of pressure fell from my shoulders once I discovered and accepted this fact.
- I’m certain our readers would greatly appreciate anything you can add…Do you have any advice for the men who wrestle with eating disorders today?
It’s difficult, but it’s okay and acceptable to admit that you struggle with sensitive problems. Showing feelings respectfully is not weakness. Talking about problems, even if it brings hurt feelings and conflict to the surface; is healing in the long run and builds your character and personality. It may be awkward and uncomfortable at first, but that is perfectly okay. You can manage. You are capable of handling it.
- What started you on your journey when you were writing Skinny Boy? What were your hopes for this book and where can our readers find their own copy?
It was constructive way to funnel anxious energy. My wife suggested I write a book about “my story.” I hadn’t thought about it until she brought it up. I was not encouraged to read growing up and therefore didn’t read many books. Ironically in high school, English grammar came quite naturally to me. So I figured I’d try something different and take a risk (part of what my therapy taught me in the hospital). Six months later, I completed the first draft. I found it therapeutic and a way to support others, particularly men, who struggled with anorexia and obsessive compulsive disorder. I discovered that I really enjoyed writing. My book can be found on amazon or at www.skinnyboybook.com
I want to leave you with this thought…An illness mental or physical is still an illness. You are your best advocate, as you know what you’re experiencing. It may be difficult to fully put into words, but you know you better than anyone else and can fight for your right to wellness. Fight for yourself and then come out triumphant for both you and the many like you. You are not alone.
Erika is a freelance photographer from Chicago, IL. She has worked as an entertainment & nightlife writer, as well as a model. Her & her husband now live in Indiana with their ferrets. They are very passionate about animal rescue & rehabilitation. She lives with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) PTSD, Depression & Anxiety. Some of her parts struggle with their own individual mental health problems; an ED & OCD to name two. It took many years but she found her voice and now is actively speaking out against the stigma surrounding mental illness and the lack of assistance for those struggling to reach out. In addition, she also lives with some limiting physical health conditions which unfortunately have made working impossible. For now, she is focused on her writing, speaking engagements, painting and her small family.
You can follow Erika on Twitter.