Men can struggle with disordered eating, too. I was one of them.
My struggle began in the winter of 2018. I had recently transferred from the University at Buffalo and arrived home looking forward to my new start at New Paltz. Near the end of my time in Buffalo, I was in a running club, where a group of running enthusiasts would jog long distances near and around campus.
Hearing about their impressive personal fitness and diet accomplishments got me thinking, “If they can do all of that, then so can I!” So, I went into the winter break with a mindset of eating less and running longer and faster to feel better about myself. Boy, how wrong was I?
My routine consisted of running seven miles, three times a week in the freezing cold, attempting to hold a challenging pace of well under seven minutes a mile. To top it all off, I would often skip lunch. I was already an athletic and healthy individual, but I felt unsatisfied and inferior to my peers in terms of fitness level. This style of irregular eating carried over to my first semester at my new school. I would constantly visit websites day after day, recalculating how many calories I should be eating over and over. I finally settled on a number: 2,700. That stupid number defined me.
Mentally tracking calories was all I was consumed with. Which foods had the lowest calories, when I should eat and lowering my weight was on my mind 24/7. I measured out foods in the dining hall with a coffee mug, which I deduced to be one cup. I avoided all desserts except for carefully controlled amounts of vanilla soft serve and certain cereals. Broccoli with hummus and rice cakes became my best friends. While I did cut back on my running and slowed down, choosing to run five miles instead of seven and decreasing my pace slightly, it still didn’t ease my food paranoia.
When I slipped up and went over my calorie count for the day or felt stressed in general, I’d “binge.” Endless bowls of cereal, chips, candy or anything I could get my hands on were shoved down my throat to the point of feeling sick. I then stepped on my suitemate’s scale to assess the “damage,” put up the hood on my sweatshirt and wallowed in self pity for the rest of the night.
After extensive research, I diagnosed myself with binge eating disorder, or BED. It differs from other more well-known disorders such as bulimia in that I did not purge, or make myself regurgitate what I ate. People with BED track calories carefully and tend to undereat and overexercise. When they binge, they eat foods they label as “forbidden” or “bad” until they feel extremely full, then feel like garbage for a certain amount of time until the cycle repeats. This lasted all of the 2019 spring semester for me. I went to therapy, but unfortunately it didn’t disrupt me of my ways. Even worse, I contracted mono in April and couldn’t work out for a month because of doctor’s orders. My food tracking got even more obsessive, as I struggled with the idea that I couldn’t work any of my food “off.”
Over the summer, I had enough. I weighed 10 pounds lighter than I had a few months prior. I was extremely fed up with the way I ate and how constantly weak and drained I felt at my job and at home. It got to the point where I was counting out individual raisins and chocolate chips to add to my oatmeal, tallying the calories in my head. I felt ashamed of doing these habits around my family and felt awkward explaining my issue to friends. I felt trapped.
Finally, in the middle of July, I visited a dietician and explained my plight. She explained that rather than looking at the number of calories or labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” I could instead eat more balanced meals and allow myself to eat foods, in moderation, that aren’t as nutritious. Eating with common sense rather than by a book. She didn’t officially diagnose me with a disorder, but she did acknowledge that the way I ate was detrimental to my mental and physical health. From there, the clouds began to part. In my eyes, she was my savior.
I happily devoured whatever foods I desired soon after as I traveled to Maine with my family for a few days. When I came back home, I loosened up my strict eating patterns and ate when I was hungry. I remembered to indulge tastefully each day and to eat healthy foods with more variety. I was much happier in the weeks that followed, feeling stronger and more mellowed out than previously.
Am I perfect in terms of my eating now? Nope. I still carefully monitor my added sugar intake, skip some between-meal snacks (even whole meals because of my job schedule during the winter break) and continue to look at calories as a general guideline. Yet, I no longer research or tally up each calorie I eat or feel tightly bound by the arbitrary number of 2,700. I increased my weight back to approximately what it was before it all started. I have adapted my running workouts to better suit my lifestyle. I feel a lot better about myself compared to where I was months ago.
While it is unfortunately very common for women to suffer from eating disorders, and treatment is rightfully advocated for them, we often neglect to recognize that those who identify as men can suffer from these afflictions, too. In the end, it doesn’t matter what gender you identify as or what eating disorder you may be suffering with. It’s a deep, dark and encapsulating hole that is hard to get out of and annihilates your self-confidence. Nobody needs to live like that, and I strongly encourage those that think they’re developing a disorder to seek help.
You’re stronger than you think.