I am a bloke with anorexia and I am not alone. It’s estimated that in the UK 725,000 people suffer from an eating disorder. Males account for up to a quarter of all cases, and there has been a 66% increase in hospital admissions in the past decade for men with eating disorders. The first ever recorded case of anorexia was a man, I’m not the only one, so, why is nobody talking about this?
Whenever I tell people I have anorexia, they always ask the same thing – ‘When did it begin?’ I’ve heard people describe their ‘journey’ into eating disorders. Mine was more of a diversion. I didn’t realise I was on a subtle detour that’d eventually take me away from myself. I think it was a role in a school play that was one of the first triggers. I had to appear topless, so I decided to lose some weight. As I lost weight, I got noticed by this one, incredible, beautiful, amazing girl. I began to associate weight loss with success – if I could be a successful anorexic I thought I could be anything. It became a coping mechanism, a distraction from life. I had exams, deadlines, university applications and all the other insecurities any teenager has. Anorexia gave me something else to focus on, something that was above real life.
It was a gradual slip – something that slowly weighed me down. It’s hard to tell when a social drinker becomes an alcoholic. It’s the same with eating disorders. I forgot the fun of Christmas, birthdays, holidays. I just felt the dread of excess. I couldn’t remember what it felt like to feel comfortable in my own skin. I was never confident or self-assured. I always felt like I was lacking something, not good enough and a loser. My thoughts became poisoned with self-doubt and fear. Yet, I still didn’t realise I had a problem.
Anorexia became my normality, always playing in the background. It took over every aspect of my life – counting calories, constantly anxious, massive mood swings, always cold, linking weight loss with success. Yet, I believed it was the best of me; if you took it away there was nothing left. I was so churned up in it, I couldn’t see what was going on. It took over my life. I didn’t realise how many different aspects of my thinking were entwined with my eating disorder. I read blogs, watched videos and visited forums but no one was talking about a lot of the stuff I was experiencing. So, here are some of the unspoken aspects of anorexia:
Relationship with Food
Just because I wasn’t eating as much as everyone else didn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about food. It was ALWAYS on my mind. I was always totting up calories, thinking up ways to avoid meals and trying to find motivation to go longer before the next snack. I resented the power it had over me. I would feel a fraud any time I ate. I felt weak when I gave into hunger, like I was letting myself down.
I never felt anorexic enough. It diluted me as a person and gradually took over. Venomous thoughts took over and I changed. I forgot life can be fun. I started taking everything so seriously and let my mind bully me.
I hated my own company – always mournful, depressing and down. I wanted to see other people but didn’t want to inflict myself on them. That made me lonely; on the outside of life, looking in. I was waiting to be saved from my own life. I was forgotten on the shelf. I wanted a relationship so badly and was convinced I’d end up sad and alone. I locked myself away and turned in on my own mind.
It made me mentally fragile and always anxious. My thinking became binary – everything was perfect or an absolute disaster. I was constantly in a rush for no reason. I felt two steps behind everyone else, like I was always missing out.
I began to snatch at life, constantly feeling a knot of fear in my throat.
I fell out of tune with my body. I still can’t tell when I am hungry. I still hate the feeling of being full. My skin became dry. I was always cold. I’m not talking chilly; I mean gut-wrenchingly freezing. It’s like your abs are made of ice packs, your arms are sleeved with coolers. I used to take two showers a day just to stop the shaking. I was constantly thirsty and always getting headaches. I have osteopenia – brittle bones – electrolyte imbalance, dangerously low potassium levels, toothache, and on and on.
It’s taken a lot of aspects of my masculinity. The body begins shutting down and conserves energy. So, the brain stops secreting as much testosterone – it’s very power-hungry. So if you can identify with any of this, you are not alone. It might be too much to admit it to anyone now, but admitting it to yourself is a first good step. As they say, every journey begins with that first step.