The Unseen Lives of Anorexic Men

Ten million Americans have eating disorders, a million of them men.

Ten million Americans have eating disorders, a million of them men.

Ten million Americans have eating disorders, a million of them men.

By SHARE

Seeking Help

Corey Meyer, 24, a former employee at Abercrombie & Fitch, was partially hospitalized and underwent five months of treatment for his anorexia. Body image distortions played a role in his illness.

Meyer remains frustrated by the public's lack of awareness of male eating disorders. "There's 100 percent a double standard when it comes to weight and body issues," he says. "If there's a girl whose is having weight issues whether she's too heavy or too thin I think there's a lot of sensitivity and empathy."

When people notice a woman looking frail and thin, they approach a family member or friend discreetly. "My experience was people would just walk straight up to me and tell me."

When Meyer fell ill, he was in an emotionally abusive relationship. He says his girlfriend preferred skinny men and told him she would break up with him if he gained weight. Meyer also had a chiropractor who was continually giving him information about healthy eating. The more foods he learned weren't healthy, the less he ate. His job at Abercrombie & Fitch was also a factor. "It was the kind of cult where you had to look the look and walk the walk."

(iStockphoto)

When Meyer ultimately took hold of his disorder, he entered treatment at The Center for Balanced Living in Columbus, Ohio. He was the only male in a group of about 30 women, but he was relieved to find the double standard evaporated. "There was never any differentiation because I was male," he says.

Unlike Meyer, Nathan resisted getting help for his disease. He says he knew the facts – anorexia kills more people than any other psychiatric disorder – but still he fought treatment.

Part of Nathan's frustration was that people seemed to misunderstand his motivation. "It was so much more than about the food," he says. No one knew how unhappy he was. His sense of self-worth was lost. "Am I worth feeding?" he would ask himself. When he wasn't doing well financially, he would think, "This money could be put to better use."

He says family members threatened not to speak to him unless he got help, but that only isolated him more.

A close friend that Nathan respected told him how worried he was. Even though he'd been told the same thing countless times, there was something different in his friend's delivery. "Knowing that your concern comes from a place of understanding and love is more important than anything else," Nathan says.

Ultimately, "I got tired of wondering if I was going to make it," he says.

His first day at the ACUTE Center, Nathan felt relieved to have outside support. For so long, he had tried to fix his problem on his own. "I was really hard on myself and embarrassed and humiliated with my position – the fact that I wasn't strong enough to get over it."

[MORE: Brain Size May Yield Clues to Anorexia]

The ACUTE program accepts only the most severe cases of anorexia from around the country and the world. When Nathan was too sick to receive care at his local hospital, he was referred to the Denver program.

Dr. Jennifer Gaudiani, assistant medical director at ACUTE, took Nathan into her care in November 2011. He was in multi-organ failure. He weighed less than 48 percent of his normal body weight.

Gaudiani fed him the a traditional meal plan of balanced calories, increasing his intake by 400 calories every three days. After two weeks, he left the program and was placed in an inpatient treatment program. Terrified he might not make tenure at the university where he was teaching, he left before he had time to fully recover.

Nathan returned into ACUTE this March. He was given a similar treatment, but this time when he left, Gaudiani was hopeful. Nathan had fully restored his weight.

Hard Lessons

Gaudiani is conscious of the harm society and the media can inflict on young boys. Shopping for Halloween costumes this fall, Gaudiani found one that included a set of muscle padding, a "six-pack and pecs," she says. She was baffled. "If we put boobs and hips in our Halloween costumes, there would be an absolute outcry."

"The greatest problem facing men with eating disorders is that they're under-recognized, under-treated and the severity of the disease is under-appreciated," Dr. Mehler adds.