Eating disorders affect men, too

By Alan Bennett

Fall and winter were always my favorite seasons.

The crimson embrace of autumn provided more comfort than just in its beauty; it was the time of year I could throw on a jacket, cover my stomach and hide myself from the world.

If you met me in college, you might not know my story. Weighing in at 137 pounds, I’m a fraction of my former self.

Before my junior year of high school, I weighed 219 pounds, but my struggles with weight and body image long precede this time.

In third grade, I was the only student in my class of 25 to break 100 pounds. I know this because of an assignment in which we were weighed in front of the classroom, our numbers written down for our peers to see. Everyone else had double digits associated with their bodies. I had three.

I was called fat. I knew people talked about me.

In fifth grade, I wore a down vest each day in an effort to shield my peers from my appearance. For this, I was horribly teased and had to seek alternative methods for covering my stomach: a sweatshirt. I wore a sweatshirt throughout most of middle school. During my Goth phase, it was either a vest or some kind of suit jacket.

After two years of high school, I was dared to join the Track and Field team. As a result, I began to see the value of working out and eating right, and the pounds began to shed. Within four months, I had shed 40 pounds. By my graduation in June of 2012, I weighed 142 pounds.

And I was proud. I was happy.

Everyone would say, “You look so great,” or “How did you do it?” And then they didn’t believe me when I told them I did it healthily, that all I did was diet and exercise. They insisted I had a problem and needed help. I was once asked if I were bulimic.

The answer to that question was no, and that I had in fact done it the “healthy” way.

But things turned sour in college. A semester of using the gym had taught me supposedly how men were supposed to look and how they were supposed to eat. The men I saw at the gym didn’t have loose skin on their stomachs. The men I saw at the gym didn’t have skin and fat come over the top of their jeans. No, they were lean and toned and, for lack of a better word: perfect.

Come the end of September 2012, my breakfasts consisted of yogurt and berries. I started eating the dining halls’ (horrible) tabbouleh everyday for lunch. Dinner was a plain chicken breast or a small salad. I didn’t snack in between classes. I would wait until I felt like passing out before eating again. I ran so much that my legs cramped.

People’s concern for me didn’t matter, and it only made me feel worse because I knew they were right. This was it. My breaking point.

To this day I still struggle, but I’ve largely abandoned my unhealthy eating patterns.

So consider this my confessional: By day, you know me as the Culture Editor for this publication. By night, you now know I’m a fanatic worrier, a calorie counter, a disordered eater.

Please do not worry. I am largely better off, now. I have sought out help for my struggles, and have mostly accepted my body as it is. Unfortunately, the thoughts are still there: “If I eat this, I need to skip my next meal;” “I can eat this, but I need to run six miles later;” “Damn it, I missed the gym again.”

Anorexia is defined as a “relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight,” according to the National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders (ANAD).

People with anorexia have an intense fear of gaining weight and have a distorted body image linked to body weight, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. An estimated 30 million people in the U.S. struggle with anorexia or another eating disorder, according to ANAD.

About 10 to 15 percent of those are male, and very few seek help.

It is important to remember that eating disorders affect men, too. According to ANAD, fewer men seek help for their eating disorders because there is a perception that they are “women’s diseases.” While it is important to remember just how many women suffer from these disorders, it is equally as important to promote body positivity and healthy discussion among all genders to break down the stereotypes about these diseases.

This past week was Delta Phi Epsilon’s eating disorder awareness week held in association with ANAD, and it has taught me that it’s okay to be honest about myself. It’s okay to tell others. If we don’t talk about these kinds of (seemingly invisible) issues, we allow them to perpetuate.

I may be okay, but what about those men who can’t be so honest with themselves or others? When will their voices be heard? When will it be too late?

Alan Bennett is a fourth-year journalism student at the University of Maine and Culture Editor at The Maine Campus. His personal interests include food and dining, music, and health and fitness.

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