Healing Comes Wtih Self-Acceptance
By Brian Rainey
It is the middle of the night as a lone figure lies awake in bed, unable to sleep. His body is shivering, even though there are three blankets piled on top of him and the furnace is on. He is doubled over in agony.Grrr. His stomach begs for sustenance, but he does not concede. His life is filled with uncertainty, but mostly fear of what could happen next. His mind is not right, but he’s too proud and too far gone to admit that he needs help.
This person was me. Specifically, me during my freshman year in 2008. And my sophomore year in 2009. And my junior year in 2010. This had gone on for years and I couldn’t see exactly how bad everything was. My body was weak, my mind was unfocused, and my emotions were down. And yet I couldn’t force myself to see what I was doing to my body.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), approximately 24 million people of different ethnic backgrounds, genders, and ages suffer in the United States from an eating disorder, whether it be bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating. These millions range from all different age groups, from pre-teens to teenagers, from college students to people in their fifties. Usually when most people think of anorexia or bulimia, they think of teenage girls, but more and more older women are being diagnosed with such disorders. Often the ones being diagnosed are not female at all.
In recent years, there has been an increase in eating disorders diagnosed in males. According to ANAD, “approximately 10-15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male.” That seems like a pretty small margin, right? But what about those that have eating disorders but aren’t diagnosed? Many males who suffer from anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorder don’t seek treatment because they feel as though it’s a “female’s disease.” And many doctors don’t spot the ones that do have an eating disorder. Doctors are less likely to diagnose a male with disordered eating than a female, delaying treatment and putting the patient in harm’s way. While a woman’s menstruation stops if she falls below a certain weight, a man does not have the same sort of indicator. This man may find a decrease in his sex drive or feel weak, but a doctor would not find out whether the body was shutting down processes due to weight loss unless he performed further tests. The percentage of men with eating disorders may be lower than the women’s, but the attention brought to these men is often lacking.
When first diagnosed during my freshman year, I was afraid. I was embarrassed. I was confused. During my first visit to my current eating disorder psychologist, Dr. Ron Thompson, he asked me why I thought I had an eating disorder. I concentrated and thought, but I could not come up with an answer. I had been overweight as a child and had been unhappy with my body, but Dr. Thompson believed that I, like so many other patients, had a deeper reason. Many develop an eating disorder because they are depressed about their home life. Many develop an eating disorder because they’ve experienced some sort of abuse. A couple of years after my first appointment, I finally realized why my eating disorder had gotten out of control: it was because I’m gay. More specifically, I developed an eating disorder subconsciously to divert my attention away from my sexuality and toward my body image.
Homosexual males are overrepresented in the number of people with an eating disorder. Over 20% of gay men seem to suffer from anorexia and approximately 14% suffer from bulimia. But why is the margin so large among this group of people? There are several theories. One is that many males who realize that they are homosexual develop an eating disorder in order to stifle the newfound feelings that they are having. As the body slowly begins to shut down, libido is one of the first things to disappear. Many find this to be extremely relieving after such a startling revelation. Another reason could be that, like me, many develop a disorder in order to avert their attention from their sexual desires and focus more on their body. A more popular theory is that much of the homosexual population can relate more to women and are more likely to be influenced by the media’s push for “thinness” and “beauty.” Whatever the reason may be, a larger number of gay males have developed an eating disorder in recent years. What many don’t realize is that their health is seriously is at risk.
I was one of the luckier ones. Weighing in at 117 pounds and standing at six feet tall during my freshman year, I had a meager body mass index of 15.9. Anything below an 18.5 is considered seriously underweight. If I had lost just a few more pounds, I may not have made it to my sophomore year. According to ANAD, approximately 13.1% of deaths are caused by eating disorders, though many may not always be classified as deaths caused by disordered eating. Many eating disorder patients die from heart failure, malnutrition, organ failure, or suicide. Though the cause of these problems may be an eating disorder, many doctors state the cause of death as one of the aforementioned health issues. Luckily, my parents realized that I was in serious trouble and needed help.
I refused to believe that I had a problem. I focused on food amounts and body size in order to get away from the fact that I was gay. I often fought with my parents, argued with my doctors, and waged an internal war. But eventually, I realized that I didn’t have to constantly focus on food (or lack thereof) to cope with my problems. I grasped that I can rely on other things and not an obsession with caloric content to counter my problems in life. So as I sit here, typing this paper and enjoying a muffin and coffee, I can’t help but think one thing: Mmm, this is a good muffin.
"Eating Disorder Statistics." National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, n.d. Web. 23 May 2012. disorders-statistics/>
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