The images that I was offered for what people like me should look like were not me. So then what do I do? There’s only so much I can do to shape my appearance. So, not eating became a way to control this.
Where did your journey with eating disorders begin?
I wasn’t incredibly large growing up, but I was a little on the chubby side. I had to go to wear the Old Navy “husky” jeans. Stuff like that. I also wasn’t terribly popular either. So I was like this fat, ugly kid who was bullied really intensely.
It wasn’t until grade 11 when I saw this music video which depicted a fat guy dancing in the rain doing some kind of comedic body wave, that I thought, “Is this how people see me? Am I the punchline?”
At that point I started running, like, every day. I lost a decent amount of weight and it all felt pretty healthy. But during the winter, when I stopped running, I started to gain a little of that weight back. Then eating habits started to get worse.
When did you realize that what you were experiencing was an eating disorder?
It’s interesting to think back on it. Because I spent a long time trying to not think about it. So some of it’s kind of gone. But I think it just became a gradual realization as opposed to an epiphany. I was proud of it in a sort of sick way. After all, it made me pretty… “And now people like me.”
From going from grade 11 [where I was bigger], running all summer, then returning to grade 12, people treated me differently. I realized that when you lose weight, people respond in a positive way. So I found that very enforcing. And then, being a queer man, your desirability is essentially what makes you “worth it.” It’s about being “fuckable” enough.
I don’t really remember what made me want to stop. But it wasn’t a healthy transition. It was like, if I work out then I can eat. It was like a trade. But, I mean, it was something at least, because then I could at least let myself eat. I would feel like shit about it but it would still work.
Even after I thought I was over it, though, it was still there. When I started working a 9-to-5 job was when I actually started eating three meals a day. Before that it was like maybe one or two. It’s nowhere near how it used to be. But it’s definitely a struggle. It’s still something I catch myself in.
To what extent do you feel societal pressures played a role in your eating disorder?
I think as a queer man, a lot of the media messages that I processed were designed for women more so than men. Like, I’m not gonna go out and buy “Axe” body spray so I can smell like a truck. It was more like, “You need to be pretty…” or, “You need to shave your body because body hair is disgusting.”
Those kinds of things are then reinforced within the community by things like porn, which often represents these Adonis, masculine-looking guys. I don’t blame it on those things but they definitely add up. The images that I was offered for what people like me should look like were not me. So then what do I do? There’s only so much I can do to shape my appearance. So, not eating became a way to control this.
So, would you say the main driver behind your unhealthy eating patterns was more so how it made you look physically or how you felt internally?
I think it’s like a mixture. A large part was how it made me look. But I was never happy with my appearance. I would have fleeting moments of satisfaction when I could see my bones, for example. But it was not true satisfaction. However, it was also about how I felt internally because it gave me a sense of control. This is one thing that I could control. It was something that I was good at.
I remember talking to my therapist about it. She told me that I was delusional: “These are delusions. What you’re seeing in the mirror isn’t what you look like.” If you’re the person being told that what you’re seeing isn’t real, it becomes very destabilizing. How do you experience your reality if what you’re seeing isn’t real?
Eating disorders are often seen as an issue for cisgender women. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s because it fits really nicely into the story of the binary. Femininity is often associated beauty. So is thinness. It’s something women are often applauded for in society: “Oh, you’re so thin!” So, for many in society, it’s accepted that this is a common goal that should be achieved by women. And therefore, people might better understand the pressure women face to achieve these unrealistic standards – and therefore understand why eating disorders might be something some women face.
On the other end, when looking at masculinity or “men” within that rigid binary, people might often think, well, men wouldn’t want to be thin. Or, men wouldn’t have problems with their bodies. Why? Because they’re men! It shouldn’t matter to them. They’re smart. Strong. They can fix things. So, for people who view gender through the lens of a binary as opposed to a spectrum, they just don’t see body image as an issue for men and therefore don’t understand why men or masculine identifying people would have issues with eating disorders.
So, do you think it’s harder for males or masculine identifying folk to get support?
I think getting support for any kind of mental illness is difficult. It’s hard to unpack the stigma or prejudice you have until you are forced to. For example, even coming to terms with “liking dudes” was hard for me. I was super mad about it at first. I didn’t want to be what I thought it meant I was. So having to confront that internalized homophobia was a similar kind of thing for me.
I think part of the gender construct many men or masculine identifying people are placed in makes it less likely for them to seek support. Men are taught that they are not to seek help – period. Because seeking help is a sign of weakness. And they are men. And men aren’t weak. They are supposed to be strong. They should be able to beat this on their own. I think that contributes to why we see more eating disorders reported by women – not because men aren’t experiencing them but that they’ve been taught not to seek support.
If there’s one misconception about eating disorders that you’d like to dispel, what would it be?
There are a lot, actually:
Number one, eating disorders don’t all look the same. Some people want to shrink, some want to get bigger, some want to hurt themselves, others just want to be in control.
Two, fat people can have eating disorders. For example, someone who is larger, who you think could stand to lose a few pounds, could still be bulimic or starving themselves. So you shouldn’t make assumptions that someone isn’t struggling solely because of their body shape or size.
Finally, echoing what we’ve talked about, men and masculine-identifying folk experience eating disorders. And that doesn’t mean that we should care less about feminine experiences of eating disorders. It just means that we need to open up the conversation a little bit more.
In your own experience with eating disorders, what’s one action you took that had a positive impact on your struggle?
Talking about it was definitely one of the best things I did. And learning how to nourish myself and cook and prepare my own food better also worked miracles for my eating. I think getting in touch with your food and rebuilding that relationship between you, your body, food, and fitness is so important.
For someone out there today, who has read this post and is currently struggling with an eating disorder, what advice do you have for them?
Talk about it. I mean, make sure you’re talking about it with people who you trust have strong relationships with. Getting and having that support of people who are aware is so essential. And also, you are so not alone. It can be a super long journey to recovery, but you are worth it and you are enough. You do deserve the good things in life. You deserve to have energy and feel awake and be feel strong enough to navigate your day to day. You got this.
Are you looking for services? If so check out: Eating Disorder Support Network of Alberta (EDSNA), Alberta Health Services Eating Disorder Program, or Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous