story about male who had bulimia... originally printed in High Plains Reader (www.hpr.com)
|Male Eating Disorders:
A Solemn Column for the Sickness of our Time
Every American knows that eating disorders are a problem; presumably every human being does. The use of vomiting to lose weight goes as far back as the ancient Greek times, and anorexia has been documented as going as far back as the 1870’s. However, whenever mentioned, these disorders are thought of with a feminine connotation. When people think of male eating disorders they typically think of boxers and wrestlers performing outrageous feats in order to make weight class. Do men practice anorexia and bulimia for vanity and self-esteem? The High Plains was fortunate enough to have a dialogue with such a man.
“I started to gain weight when my grandma got cancer, and as soon as she died from it, I just went off the edge. Then one day my dad called me a fat ass, and right there I knew that I had to start losing some weight. So then I tried the Atkins diet, and that worked fine for a while, but then I got off of it and I gained twice as much as I lost. Then I went to a doctor for an ankle injury that I had, and he said I had to lose weight or else there would have to be surgery done on it. So then I pretty much just started not eating,” he began.
“It started out with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but in small amounts. Then I’d just have dinner. It got to the point where if I had a grain of rice, I’d probably have to go throw up, because I’d feel fat from it.” Now, this story is troubling enough as it is. Could it get any worse for Danny Curry? You will find that in most cases of eating disorders, there is only one way to go in the early stages: spiraling on downwards.
He continued, “There were times when I didn’t even want to get up and go to school, because I knew that if I saw all those guys that have to do nothing to get the way they are I would feel like a woman. There’s that, and you also don’t even want to look at your family, because you know that they would think what you’re doing is wrong. So you don’t even want to look your family in the eye, because you have to lie to them every day. It’s also really bad when you’re in the locker room at school with all the other guys, because you feel like everybody has to know for sure what you’re doing.”
It’s clear that gender role is an important factor in male eating disorders. Are there a lot of men like Danny? There’s no way to know for sure, because most men would never talk about it even if they did share this illness. Thus, any statistics on the matter have a considerable margin of error. The mentality amongst men does not particularly permit this kind of thing, which puts even more shame in the life of someone such as this who is already being consumed by so much shame. This is not saying that women do not experience shame. Of course they do, but women being concerned with vanity is not an unusual thing. Men care about their appearance, but to do so openly is often considered “femmy.”
It would seem that there must be a lot of cover-ups and secrecy involved in something like this. Danny’s response to this was, “In the morning I’d get up really early and throw up before anyone was awake. I had to do it in the morning, because that was the best time to do it. If my parents were around, I’d just go into the bathroom and turn on the shower and throw up… Our family dinners weren’t really on the table. Everyone just went and sat in the living room, and no one really paid attention to whether or not you ate.”
You can only imagine the kind of desperation it takes to reach these extremes. He testified that this went on for a year and half. One can speculate as to how trying this kind of secret identity can get after a time like that. Something like this can only stay secret for so long. It’s only a matter of time before extreme physical conditions come into play and others begin to notice.
“Probably half a year into it, I started throwing up more, and more, and more, and more. By then people were starting to realize that I had been losing weight. My skin was starting to get sensitive and my muscles were practically gone. I just felt weak. I missed a week of school because I couldn’t physically get out of bed. It hurt to even move the sheets… I started growing my hair out at the time, and you could sort of see my scalp, so it kind of looked like I was balding. Everybody started to realize that I had something going on. Everybody was asking me how I was losing weight, and I’d just lie to them and say, ‘Well, I’m eating right and exercising,’ and they’d ask, ‘oh, you’re exercising a lot?’ and I’d tell them that I was. So then I felt like I had to exercise, so I was spending about 3 hours in the fitness center every night running and riding the bike. I didn’t lift at all because I knew I’d get bigger. I didn’t want to be big in any way at all. Once I was a year and half into it I was so skinny and pale. I lost over 110 pounds. I went from 264 to 145.”
Is society to blame, or maybe genetics? Perhaps it is both. Recent studies show that mothers and sisters of people with anorexia are at 11 times higher a risk, and at 4 times the risk of bulimia. On the other hand, it is impossible to watch television or read a magazine without seeing what has become the definitive definition of sex appeal. Only in an imperfect world could perfection be demanded in such a way that could cause a person to inflict these symptoms upon his/her self.
Even Danny joined the attractive elite of our nation after his ordeal. How quickly your views can change when on the other side of the poking stick. “As soon as I lost weight, I started making fun of big people, because I got it so much in my life.” Payback is sweet, but not when misdirected towards those who ought to be your sympathizers. This didn’t go on for too long before Danny felt the guilt of it. “Then after a while I was laying awake in my bed, and I asked myself ‘What are you doing?’ I felt so terrible [about making fun of bigger people] that it made me sick. So what did I do? I went and threw up again.
Although this relapse did occur, its habitual lifestyle did not quite ensue. That is, not until a certain incident. “One day I was sitting in class and some guys out of the blue called me fat ass again. I told them, ‘I’m not fat, why in the hell would you call me fat ass?’ but he kept on saying it. So I got back into it again. I lessened my food intake and threw up everything I ate all over again.”
However grim things were looking for the protagonist of this story, he did in fact manage to swing it all around again. Like a Disney hero he conquered all. “Once I quit, I was on a big rampage to lift all the time. I wanted to get back at all the people who made fun of me, so I lifted. At that point I went from 145 to about 175. I was a vegetarian for about a year after. Once I started eating normally again, it was just a bowl of cereal for breakfast, not very much for dinner, and for supper I would just eat a little bit of whatever my mom made.”
Now our friend is a well-adjusted, healthy person with excellent eating habits. He asked the High Plains as a confidant to deliver his message to people all over. “I want people to realize how unimaginably bad eating disorders are for you,” he pleaded. “Believe in yourself. I know it sounds corny, but it’s true. Even if you’re big and you want to lose weight, just do it the right way. If you do it wrong, you’re going to end up messed up one way or another. If that doesn’t work for you, at least get some professional help. Even now I’ll get flashbacks to those days and I’ll want to throw up. It messes up your whole life.”