It’s hard to say when an eating disorder “started.” I think it is more of a progression from the disordered thoughts, to actions, and then to diagnosis and treatment. If I had to pick a time I would have to say mine “started” in 2006/ 2007 when I started bicycling competitively. In my drive to be competitive, I decided that in order to be faster I had to weigh less. I read how famous cyclists like Lance Armstrong measured and weighed every single thing they ate and I thought that sounded like a good idea. So I started doing that. I also began broadening my very limited diet by eating more vegetables and varied foods.
My favorite foods were pizza and pasta (butter, no red sauce) and white bread with lots of butter. As I began hearing that these foods weren’t “healthy” I stopped eating them.
I vividly remember visiting my sister while she was a freshman in college. I chose to eat a stir-fry because I thought it was the ‘healthiest’ option – this is where my disordered thoughts surrounding food really started.
I became obsessed with food, while at the same time not allowing myself to have it. I started collecting cookbooks, and reading Cooking Light and other weight loss magazines. It quickly consumed me. I started cooking for the family and packing my own lunches to control what was going into my body. Not only would I restrict ingredients I “wasn’t allowed,” but I also served myself smaller portions than my parents, because I didn’t want to eat more than an adult.
I convinced myself, as well as my family, that the cause of my weight loss was increased activity combined with not eating enough. I went to a nutritionist who recommended some ways I could gain weight; so I attempted a weight-gain plan, but that didn’t work – mostly because I wasn’t following it. I had a bunch of tests done, everything from GI scopes to allergy tests and they all came back as normal.
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Amidst the testing, I was suffering more than I ever knew; I was so numbed by the eating disorder that I didn’t realize how poorly I was really doing. I felt dizzy getting out of bed or out of a chair, had trouble climbing stairs, and was struggling to bike. I was a mess.
We didn’t know what to do. Nobody had even mentioned the possibility of an eating disorder. My parents realized that what was wrong with me was not physical because they got me to see a couple of psychologists. However, this didn’t get me anyways because none of them specialized in eating disorders. We were lost.
My sister came to visit me and showed immediate concern for me. To be honest, I don’t know what I would have done without her; she knew what was wrong long before I or even the doctors did. She insisted to my parents that I see a therapist she had found online who specializes in eating disorders. My first appointment I sat blank-faced – not really knowing what was going. I think of it as a kind of ‘eating disorder haze.’
Dr. H (the therapist) diagnosed me as anorexic. I was in shock. In the car, I asked my mom how that could even be. I didn’t have an eating disorder, did I? It didn’t help matters that I was a guy and didn’t think guys struggled with this. I sat in the car on the way home, tearfully thinking about what this meant.
Then began the recovery process.
I saw a few dieticians until I found one I liked and was seeing my therapist every week (along with my parents and my sister when she could make it). During my first few sessions, they took away my cooking privileges, and I was devastated. See, my cooking obsession had gotten worse, and I thought that not knowing what would go into everything I ate would kill me. Dr. H suggested that it was my eating disorder causing me to obsess about cooking; I thought that was absolutely ridiculous. I was convinced she was just taking away the one thing I liked because she wanted to make me miserable.
I came home from each appointment more depressed than the last I felt as though all my privileges were being taken away and it wasn’t fair.
I now recognize that it was actually my eating disorder that was depressed; it was losing control and hated it.
During one appointment we discussed a bike ride I wanted to do: Ride Across Indiana. I had done it the year before, and I was excited to do it again. When Dr. H recommended I not do the ride (and my parents agreed) I was devastated. Up until that point, I had moved forward in my recovery because I knew that I would only be allowed to do the rides I wanted once I gained weight. But now I had gained weight and I still wasn’t allowed, and it seemed totally unfair.
The next major speed-bump in my recovery was the death of my grandfather. I had a great relationship with him, and seeing him suffering from lung cancer was really hard. Looking back at it now, I feel bad at how empty I felt – at my lack of emotions. I think that my eating disorder numbed me to so many things. The worst part? I didn’t know I was numb. Emotions are just another thing ED takes away from us.
Eating disorders are not about the food, they really are not.
So where does this leave me now? I am at a healthy weight, but thoughts still rattle around my head every once in a while. I would like to say that a full recovery is possible, that there will be a time when I have no thoughts of ED whatsoever, but I don’t have an answer as to whether or not that is possible. However, I will work towards full recovery and do my best to get there nevertheless.
One thing I do know is that through this eating disorder I have learned so much about myself and about my family. I now value the love and support of my family more than I ever did before, simply because I know where I would be without it. I know myself better, I understand that it is okay to not be perfect and that there are certain things that I simply am not meant to do in life – and this is okay.
So why am I writing this? Well, because I know I felt like there was nobody that had gone through what I was going through. Other guys with eating disorders? Nonsense! I was just weird. But I was so wrong. Through blogging, not only did I find other guys suffering from the same things I was, I also found more support than I could have ever imagined. For me, having other people to talk to that have gone through the same things I was going through was extremely helpful. With these people, I don’t worry about being judged because I know they understand me in a way not many people can. It is definitely not a replacement for support from the people who are in your lives every day but having an online support system from the “blog world” who really understand the struggles of having an eating disorder truly is so helpful.
There is support out there for each and every one of you, no matter how hopeless you feel.
You can do this, you can recover, and you can be happy again.
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