Men Get Eating Disorders too
Connor Spratt discusses the need for more conversation around men with bulimia and other disordered eating
University is something I will remember both fondly and as something that scarred me. I took up a new sport and enjoyed it thoroughly from the beginning, even becoming the captain of my sports club after my first year. On the outside I was physically fit, dedicated to my sport, and seemed healthy. However, I was secretly also suffering with bulimia.
I was seen as an obese kid throughout childhood. I was teased about it regularly. Once I started at University I started to realise just how much my body affects me and my self-image. The compliments I once received for my weight loss since childhood had stopped; I was now seen as an average guy.
“If no men are sharing their experience with disordered eating, it seems like it just can’t be true that they suffer with them.”
However, when new friends discovered my weight loss, either through my own confession or through an impromptu scroll through my Facebook, the compliments came back. I got back this proud, almost valued feeling. But it was always fleeting.
Fast forward to halfway through my second year of University, I had been a member of a sports club for six months. I loved my training and could do things I had never done before. My coach had noticed my improvement and asked me whether I wanted to fight in an upcoming competition. I agreed and began training, radically transforming my exercise routine and diet. I went from a manageable goal of training three times a week, to a regiment of busting my limits. My diet had shifted from mindful, health conscious eating, to meticulous restriction.
I had my fight two months later, having lost a lot of weight very quickly in this short amount of time to satisfy a weight bracket. Within 30 minutes of the fight I binge ate past the point of being comfortably full. Neither I, nor those around me saw the harm in this. I started to become so obsessed with food I began to learn the menus available through Ubereats better than my assigned readings for lectures. I finally got my break, right?
Unbeknownst to me and those around me, these were the signs that I had started slipping further and further into bulimia. Throughout the time I was losing weight for the fight, I started to receive compliments again. People praised me for how lean and strong I looked. Not only did this bring back the feeling I had got in the past, it had something new. I was recognised for being strong, athletic, and fit. This was unheard of for me, I was always the kid who finished last in each race. I felt valued.
So, I trained even harder. I restricted more food. Naturally, I got hungrier too. When your body is so restricted, it will try its best to survive and attain food. I had held myself back for so long, it was clearly not sustainable or healthy. When I inevitably broke, I fell off a cliff. I would mindlessly eat everything I could until I was painfully full and some more for good measure. My relationship with food was broken. All that food means one thing—weight gain.
I felt like I couldn’t let that happen. In my eyes, people would realise I had gained weight and would no longer value me. I would take measures to ‘correct’ each binge. After training, my mind would be fixated on my next meal, how many calories were in it, the appropriate time to eat it, and more. The cycle repeated over and over. Everyday I felt on the edge of crying. I was in a constant battle with food; a battle I would come to lose in the cruellest way every night.
I often concluded this was just how my life would be, and thoughts about food would constantly plague me. I had recently become captain of my sports club, and believed that I couldn’t be unwell, or else I surely couldn’t be in a position of responsibility. I had lost all interest in anything but food, I even began to hate the sport I once loved.
I eventually got an appointment with my doctor and told him everything. I told him food was constantly on my mind and it wouldn’t stop. I told him that I was confused, I didn’t know men suffered with eating disorders, so I assumed it couldn’t be that. People around me told me I looked good, so how can I actually be unhealthy? I told him I was scared, I knew the way this was going after touching on this illness in my Psychology studies.
Fast forward 18 months later, after therapy, very difficult repeats of cycles and intrusive thoughts on food, and I am somewhat recovered. I still struggle. Thinking about it, I would say I still struggle daily. However, it’s not nearly to the same extent. I enjoy life now and take pride in the position I have in my sports club as a coach. More importantly, food and exercise are now a part of my life, not my whole life.
For a while I was ashamed, but now I want to share my story. When I was in the grips of bulimia, I did not know that I was ill. Neither did those around me. Those who knew something was wrong could only go as far to say that; nobody could pinpoint what it was or put it into words, but that is no surprise. I didn’t know the words myself before seeking help. If we never hear, read, or talk about a subject, how can we ever go on and speak about it? That is why I want to speak about it now. Although conversations are improving when it comes to bulimia, people are not well-informed, and often can’t respond or support sufficiently when somebody they know is going through it.
My illness started as something seemingly harmless, on the outside I was a leader—a strong man with no visible weakness. However, little by little it engulfed me. I did not know what I was going through. When I tried to search anything about eating disorders, I only saw women talking about it—further pushing my distorted belief that I couldn’t be suffering with an eating disorder as I wasn’t a woman. These misguided beliefs are perpetuated when we do not share varied experiences. If no men are sharing their experience with disordered eating, it seems like it just can’t be true that they suffer with them.
This not only affects how the sufferer thinks of their problem, but also how others around them view it. Many did not believe that I had an eating disorder. This is not just true with disordered eating, it can be applied in other cases with other hidden illnesses too. If we begin to share our narratives, we can begin to understand each other more and help each other more. Nobody is to blame in my situation, rather a lack of conversation around the topic is to blame for perpetuating my situation. Share your experiences, even if—like me—you do not believe you are justified feeling the way you do. Your feelings are valuable and are deserving of attention and help if needed.
Oh, and for those interested, I sadly lost my sports fight. However, I began a new fight in that time, one that I am now winning every day.