When you hear “eating disorder,” what image comes to mind? If it’s a young, white, thin female, you’re not alone. However, this is far from the reality. Men battle eating disorders, too. In fact, nearly 10 million males in the United States will be diagnosed with one at some point in their lives.

Unfortunately, men are far less likely to seek help because of the stigma that still exists. But once a person seeks treatment, it can provide a life-changing experience. Medical Daily spoke to eating disorder survivor Jonathan Smith who can attest to how recovery helped shape him into the man he is today.

Read: Men Get Eating Disorders, Too: Males Greeted With Silence When It Comes To Disordered Eating

After a long fight with anorexia, restrictive eating, and compulsive exercise, he now finds it helpful to speak out about his recovery. Here’s what he wants you to know about what it’s like to be a male living with an eating disorder.

A Feeling Of Worthlessness

Even as Smith’s health began to decline, his school work suffered, and his relationships became unhealthy, it didn’t matter; it wasn't enough to be the wake-up call he needed. Like Michayla Lupien, another eating disorder survivor who Medical Daily spoke to, Smith never felt like he was enough. At just 10 years old, he began cutting foods out of his diet after being teased and struggling with body image. By age 13, he was restricting certain foods and purging. By age 15, he stopped purging, but continued to restrict food and over-exercise. As the list of foods he considered “unsafe” grew longer every day, his eating disorder began to rapidly control him, blinding him to the world around him.

“The miles I had to run also grew daily and even coughing up blood wasn’t enough to keep me from [my eating disorder],” Smith told Medical Daily. “I couldn’t focus on anything other than calories, body fat, measurements, muscles, and miles.”

At his worst, he was only eating a bowl of carrots, kale, or broccoli before or after he ran. He'd run at least 12 miles every day, but his mileage quickly increased to 30 at one time, alongside an hour of power yoga several times a week.

Today, his world is far from what it once was. After receiving treatment from the Eating Recovery Center (ERC), many of his unhealthy habits have shifted, he’s built stronger relationships, and has a newfound sense of confidence within himself. But, that’s not to say his days are always sunny.

Read: 7 Surprising Facts About Men’s Health: They Die Sooner, More Likely To Get Struck By Lightning, And More

Journey Into Recovery

During his battle, Smith felt helpless, but opening up to others gave him a sigh of relief.

“I had so many people that were hurting with me and for me as I was slipping further into my disorder,” he said. “Recognizing that made me work harder and continues to keep me motivated.”

While he was fortunate to get the professional support he needed, many other men around the country aren’t so lucky. Men often struggle with eating disorders far longer than women before they get treatment, Dr. Michael Lutter, a physciatrist at ERC in Dallas, explained to Medical Daily.

“Many eating disorder programs won’t even accept male patients, because they feel it upsets their female clients or is not worth the investment in treatments, so Eating Recovery Center is one of the few places men are welcome for treatment,” Dr. Lutter said.

Treatment allowed Smith to develop a healthier relationship with food, but his issues with over-exercising and body image often still persist. Just as many others do, Smith often gets caught on obtaining the “ideal, perfect male body.”

“Especially being a gay man, I sometimes feel like I need to look a certain way to be found attractive or that being more muscular would make me happier,” he said. “It’s difficult to disengage from that narrative but I often have to remind myself that there is no ‘perfect body.’”

Breaking The Stigma

Eating disorders are not a “women’s problem” and can affect anyone regardless of  age, shape, size, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, and socioeconomic status. Men, like women, suffer from diagnosable conditions such as binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, and anorexia nervosa, among others. One of the differences among the sexes is that men often strive to lose body fat, but not weight, Dr. Lutter points out.

“I wish men didn’t feel the need to be strong and emotionless, that they felt comfortable expressing body image issues and struggles with food,” Smith said. “I wish they knew they weren’t alone and that asking for help is okay.”

Most importantly, he wishes you knew it's not a choice to have an eating disorder. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, help is just a phone call or email away. For additional information about Eating Recovery Center, call 877-789-5758, email info@eatingrecoverycenter.com, or visit eatingrecoverycenter.com to speak with a Master's-level clinician.

 

See also: Eating Disorder Treatment Latest: Deep Brain Stimulation May Lessen Anorexia Symptoms

In Honor Of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, One Survivor Shares Her Journey Into Recovery