‘It wasn’t until a suicide attempt I knew things were bad’: Battling anorexia and bulimia as a man

We’re told that only teenage girls get eating disorders

According to B-eat, more than 725,000 people suffer from some sort of eating disorder. Around 25% of these people are male. So why is it still a gendered disease?

We all have our insecurities from time to time, most people can work to learn to love themselves and be kind to themselves. For others it isn’t so easy. For me, an insecurity sent my life down a dark spiralled path.

From a young age I remember being very conscious about myself, my appearance, my weight and what people thought of me because of those things. It’s also at this young age I can say I had the developments of an eating disorder. I was always a very fussy eater to the extent that I would seriously neglect my body of some vital nutrition it needed. This carried on in a number of ways through my childhood and now into my adult life. At around the age of 12 it started being less about fussy with taste and it started being more about control. If I could restrict my diet to only half of the calories it needs then surely that’ll help me lose weight and be happy? That is what your brain tells you everyday, and it’s horrible. I wouldn’t wish this onto my worst enemy.

Steadily over the years I was in my comfortable (for want of a better word) little restrictive/destructive eating pattern of eating as few calories as I could while exercising as much as I could. This routine became my only source of happiness and even then it wasn’t real happiness. It was a warped reality that my brain had concocted, to make me strive to be thinner. However, messing with all your bodies chemical processes will only work for so long before it fucks you up. I found that I was becoming more and more tired, dizzy and I was feeling more faint. Any normal person would see this as exhaustion from over-exercising or from malnutrition from not eating enough, but what I had in my head was that this meant I was getting thinner.

And for a while I was getting thinner. People who had knew, me for a long time and saw my weight yoyo commented on how “healthy” and “happy” I looked – this spurred me on to continue my destructive patterns. Now, in hindsight, it is pretty clear that there was some sort of mental health issue going on here, but I managed to hide from all those around me.

Then at 15 the depression hit.

I slowly started to feel more and more worthless, I was being harsher to myself. I slowly lost motivation to exercise and wouldn’t leave my bed for days at a time. I, however, didn’t attribute this to my deteriorating mental health and instead blamed my escalating weight. With food slowly becoming a comfort blanket for me when I was feeling low. The feeling of worthlessness and self hatred got worse with every calorie I consumed. Then at 16 I decided I had enough. I wanted my control back.

At 16 for the first time, I voluntarily made myself vomit. And from then on what started off as an anxiety attack response, became my new way of finding control. I had new sets of strict rules that had to be followed, and it was probably even easier to hide now more than ever. I’d be eating portions that other people would (providing I hadn’t eaten for most of the day) and drinking plenty of water, so I managed to maintain the façade of health and happiness. While behind the scenes I’d be purging every meal I had to keep my control. This became my new normal. And with it, the depression and anxiety got even worse – but I still blamed my weight. Self harm became part of my life whenever I felt I had eaten too much, constant self hate was swirling through my mind. And as purging was my way of maintaining a feeling of control, then I thought if I could purge more then I’d be happy. So in came the other part of my eating disorder – the binging. Together my binging and purging simply became a part of my life, and now they are still a major part of me.

Starting uni in September of 2015 gave me a small glimmer of optimism. I thought that if I started a new chapter of my life, and made new friends then everything would be fine (I didn’t have an official diagnosis then or anyone telling me it was wrong so to me it was normal). I was right about this. For about a day or two. While eating dinner with my new friends on the first day I had a fleeting moment of pure self loathing – so I did what I knew and purged, felt a rush of relief and went to be “happy”. Fast forward to after Christmas and after purging very frequently for a number of years the physical effects were starting to show on my body. Constant sore throats, stomach cramps, stained teeth and receding gums just to name a few. But yet I didn’t stop purging.

It wasn’t until a suicide attempt I knew things were bad. Calling my flatmate at 3am after drinking bleach was my only option. He now knew everything, and then so did my other close flatmates. They have offered their support and that’s something that I wasn’t expecting. I was expecting ridicule and disapproving looks – but it was pretty obvious that they were there for me.

Then, I got an official diagnosis. Bulimia-nervosa the psychologist told me. I felt scared and relieved all at once. Knowing that there is something wrong with my mental health gave me some hope for recovery. However there are people who still turn their nose up at the idea of a male having an eating disorder. We’re told that only teenage girls get them and that you must be gay if you have one. This societal view has been passed on through generations and needs to end. We need to stop treating eating disorders as a female disease and be open to all sufferers. For me, my recovery journey is only just beginning, but I’m hoping I can make it to the end.

If you’re struggling, call 116 123 to talk to the Samaritans 24 hours a day.