Posted by: cindy | November 21, 2008

Manorexia or Men with Eating Disorders



James is a nice looking guy, tall with a lean and muscular build.  One would never know by looking at him that he is currently a patient at an inpatient treatment center for eating disorders. 
 When thinking of eating disorders, we rarely picture a man working out obsessively, starving himself to look lean or wanting to emulate celebrities on magazine covers. 

Eating Disorders are considered “women’s illnesses”.  In our society, men are not allowed to show the weakness of having mental health disorders, much less suffer from eating disorders. In view of the fact that men and eating disorders is a problem, they virtually always keep this a painful secret.  According to the National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders, men comprise about one million Americans who are suffering with eating disorders.  James recalls his first introduction to his eating disorder as a young high school athlete. He was a wrestler and during wrestling session he was forced to keep his weight below 160 to be eligible to compete in a certain weight class. With tears in his eyes, James describes the rituals he endured to maintain his weight: restricting calories, working out obsessively and even wearing a rubber sweat suit under his clothes at school.  James also recalls a period of binging and purging in an attempt to lower his weight even further to possibly compete in an even lower weight class. 

Everything is calculated. He knows the calorie content of every morsel of food or beverage he ingests even though his days of wrestling have long passed. James exercises excessively, knowing exactly how many calories he burns with each work out. James has been suffering with anorexia for nearly 10 years. However, he was only recently diagnosed. James recalls one recent  Dr. visit with his primary physician where he was actually praised for his lean, underweight frame. “The subject of eating was never brought up, he says, people always assumed that I was a distance runner even though I wasn’t, I hid behind that assumption”.

A recent Harvard study on eating disorders paints a different, bigger picture: more men are suffering from eating disorders than previously thought.  Out of 3,000 people diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia, 25 percent were men.

The diagnostic criterion for anorexia focuses on women, which is evident with symptoms of amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation) and fear of fatness.  Though some men do exhibit a fear of fat, others typically want to be muscular, obsess over attaining a low body fat percentage and focus their efforts on excelling at a sport.

James ended up in treatment after collapsing in the gym. He had just completed a particularly grueling workout during a period of fasting. James tells the story of the ambulance ride, the hospitalization and one particularly astute young female Dr. “She confronted me and asked me point blank if I restricted calories as regular practice.  That was my moment, finally the gig was up and it was no longer my secret, I felt a tremendous burden lifted when I answered yes”.

 From that hospitalization, James was transferred to an inpatient treatment center for eating disorders in Arizona. His roommate is a compulsive overeater named Paul.  James and Paul have found strength in each other, knowing they are not alone as men with eating disorders.  Their stories are very different but the journey to recovery from eating disorders is the same, one day at a time.




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