When Alex went to college, stress brought his eating disorder right back: "I would get so stressed out with projects that I would all of a sudden realize, 'Oh, it's midnight and I haven't eaten since 8 a.m.' I would have to force myself to go make a sandwich. It's interesting how quickly and unexpectedly it can come back. Because if I don't cook dinner, that's an hour I can use to work. I'd have to catch myself and be like, 'No, that doesn't help.' That would happen several times a week."
These days, he's fine most of the time. But like a recovering addict, bad urges will pop up in the back of his mind. "I like food. I still don't necessarily like how I look on any given day; there's still that mental stuff," he says. "But I know not eating isn't the solution. It's background noise. Every once and a while, you have to address it."
Kanawa Studio / iStock
Treat this as a rehab session.
Steven, meanwhile, still isn't doing so great. "I still have extreme body issues," he says. "The moment I gain two or three pounds, I feel like I'm really fat and I start to hate my body. I have to force myself to eat. I can still go days without eating and be totally happy doing that." And that, of course, takes its toll. "I have hypoglycemia; I'm borderline diabetic. I have major mood swings. I use my eating disorder as a coping mechanism, something that I can control. I gain a weird sense of self-worth from restricting my food intake. [It's] the one thing I have control over."
And let's face it: In our culture, men are trained not to talk about their problems -- especially "girly" problems like body-image issues and eating disorders. "If there is one thing an eating disorder loves to do," Pollack says, "it's take control when a person doesn't want to speak up. We have to change the conversation. Change the actual language of the experience for men so they can relate more in their terms."
So, maybe instead of "anorexia" and "bulimia" we should go with "destructively successful food vendetta," or perhaps "excessive diet dominance." Feel free to make up your own -- it just has to be something dudes aren't afraid to say out loud, because if there's one thing we've learned today it's this: Shame is a fucking killer.
Brian Pollack has a website and works for the National Association For Males With Eating Disorders. Mark is on Twitter and has a story collection.
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For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Unexpected Things I Learned From Having An Eating Disorder and My Eating Disorder That Ruins Thanksgiving: 4 Realities.
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