Eating disorder from a male’s perspective

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Whilst at secondary school I was your average young boy who performed well academically and enjoyed spending time with my mates. More importantly, I was a very keen sportsman who competed at regional and national levels in long distance running. Unfortunately for me, running and performing well in races became an obsession and ultimately led me to suffer with an eating disorder which would nearly cost me my life.

In my mission to become a successful long-distance runner, I convinced myself that there was a direct correlation between the weight of a runner and their success and losing weight was what I set out to do. At first it started with me giving away my lunch at school, however before long this spiralled out of control and I found myself hiding food at evening meals so that my family would not realise.

As I attempted to carry out more physical activity than ever before, my body quickly became completely zapped of energy and it was only a matter of time before I struggled to carry out basic day to day activities. My family were extremely concerned but I remained silent as to why I was now visibly weak. They took me to various GP appointments over a short period of time and with the GP unable to provide a medical reason for my rapid loss of weight, the inevitable happed and I was admitted to hospital.

My hospital experience

Once admitted to hospital, things progressed quickly and I was diagnosed with Anorexia. The worst was soon to come when I found myself at a specialist hospital for adolescents suffering from eating disorder (Rhodes Farm). For a long time, I viewed this hospital stay as my darkest days where even the thought of discussing my experience would cause my body to violently shake.

On admission to Rhodes Farm, my body was at the stage where it was starting to shut down, I weighed approximately 3 stone and was unable to even walk up stairs. I was hospitalised with 16 female patients in an environment where everything was based on successful weight targets. It was an extremely tough environment but one that saved my life. I vividly remember seeing a group of girls in a room under 24 hour supervision due to their risk of self-harming.

Seeing friends and family was not an option and for a long period of time I could not see how I would ever return home. Mentally I would describe myself as a ‘lost soul’ and the impact of this eating disorder on my physical body was showing. After gaining enough weight to be allowed into the garden I soon discovered that my body would need retraining in balance and I had no ability to control a football for example. I felt like a baby. It was positive that I was beginning to gain weight again, however I found meal times extremely challenging as the rules (which were at times questionable) would mean that you would be required to eat large portions in full otherwise you would be force-fed.

Life after hospitalisation and my recovery

After 3 months I was finally allowed to return home, I initially stayed in contact with some of the individuals I had shared a small part of my journey with but this contact didn’t last as I was in denial and tried to wipe blank this part of my life.

My recovery was still in relatively early stages and some of the problems that surfaced in Rhodes Farm would really come to life and have a huge impact of family life. My studies slowed down and my anger sped up as I resented anyone and everything that I blamed for putting me in the position I found myself in. Attending counselling did not help and the session would more often or not ended up with shouting, swearing and being restrained.

My parents were tasked with weighing me daily and I regressed at times to carrying out tactics to try and outsmart the weighing scales including drinking multiple pints of milk before weighing time. Tipping the scales in the right direction would allow me to have a day out and this is what I soon focused on.

I was incredibly embarrassed and by no means ready to tell the world about the traumas I had been through so after a long debate regarding going to another school I did in fact re-join my former classmates. This was a huge step in the right direction but I was lacking courage and went along with the story that I had had a horrific leg break -I think I was the only one who believed this but it saved the majority of questions and meant I had something to hide behind.

Whilst there were improvements in certain aspects of my life, home life which was still really tough time and saw my relationship with relatives suffer. I was a very angry person who had turned into an animal, I really regret my behaviour and would do anything to turn the clock back, everything I did was to try and get at those closest to me. I would threaten to harm myself to get reactions, very rarely did I follow through but the pain I was causing was giving me a sense of joy.

My parents were so worried about me regressing that the rules got tougher and the punishments harsher, I felt like Rhodes farm had now come into my home and continued to try and fight this. The tricks and dishonesty continued as I would do anything to be allowed out at weekends, I would bloat before weigh in but also slide huge weights in my pants as I limped down the stairs with 3 KG of additional weight desperately trying to ensure that the number would meet target.

I had become violent and irrational putting not just my own safety at risk but both of my sisters who had to live with this, they felt they I was the only person in the family at this stage at this had had hugely damaging affect on relationships between everyone in the family that sadly still exist to this day.

I would go on to smoke weed, fall out with everyone around me and completely turn away from my religious upbringing. During this period, I spent some time living with my grandparents, I think to give my parents a rest more than anything.

I did start to make progress over the next few years and I felt like I was enjoying my food again, not counting each calorie and starting to rebuild friendships. My studies had recovered and I got some very respectful GCSEs/A Levels thanks to the continued support of family and countless additional hours of tutoring.

During this period my toughest challenge was addressing the fact that puberty hadn’t started for me and whilst everyone else seemed to be maturing and reaching the next stage if their life I was standing still. This may or may not have been caused by my issues but it certainly felt like it was all coming back to haunt me again.

Life today

The last 10 years really have been dream for me and I think that my case can give anyone and everyone confidence that this horrible disease can be beaten and life will get better.

I finished school with excellent A Levels results which has opened up various opportunities in terms of my career, I have played football at semi professional level, gained all my football coaching badges and was the youngest manager to coach in the UCL all by the age of 25.

Some highlights of my life today are that:

  • I am now a production manager heading up a team of 100+ staff in a multimillion-pound electronics company;
  • I married in 2022
  • I have improved relationships with family; and
  • I have a fantastic group of friends and active social group
  • I enjoy bucket list holidays around the globe

Most importantly I have found my faith again which I strongly believe is the reason I am here to present this blog.

However, I still have scars from my past and it is only recently that I felt the courage to tell my story as I want to now make a difference in somebody else’s life.

I still struggle to eat certain foods, struggle to eat anything that brings back bad memories and sometimes struggle to eat around certain people. I convince myself certain foods will give me a bad stomach and low and behold they do. If I like a meal then I will eat the same meal for years on end, my lunch at work hasn’t changed in 15 years.

I still have anger issues that I have to deal with and find that when I drink alcohol is a big trigger for me.

Mental health is scary and should be taken very seriously but with the right support it is something that we can overcome together. If you ask any of my friends, they will say I am the biggest eater and when I talk about my past people are astounded as to where I have got to.

Right now, I can honestly say my life has never been better and this illness can be beaten and life can be better than it was before.