Men have eating disorders, too.

Via on Jul 28, 2011

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For 37 years, I’ve had an eating disorder.

And I’ve never really told anyone.

I usually shrug, “well, I’m discursive about food, haahah, I just eat a ton if food if it’s around, or forget to eat if I’m working…you know, I’m just a bachelor.” I make it sound vaguely funny or charming, no big deal, like I’m a dog that loves to eat anything and everything.

But the fact is, I’ve got an eating disorder.

Okay, lemme pull that one back a bit. My issue is mild. But serious. But it’s nothing as tough as those who have to deal with serious issues of addiction or binging and purging.

Still, my little issues consumes, no pun intended, maybe 5 or 10% of my brain or consciousness every day. Every effing day. 365 days a year, times 37, is a whole lot of wasted something.

Just think what I, and all those who suffer from something similar, could do with that extra energy and relaxation if we could just let go?

I’ll pull it back a little more: I may never have told anybody, but I’m not particularly secretive about it, either. It’s kinda obvious, if you know me well. Girlfriends have noticed:  “how can you eat so much?!” Best friends have noticed: “you never eat!”

The point of writing this is not to earn myself a few Boulder-style closed-eye too-long hugs, or to crash a group for folks who have serious issues—which can be debilitating or even deadly.

The point of sharing this now, finally, is because (cough: I need traffic) I’m an open person in all areas of my life…not because I’m a particularly virtuous person, but rather simply because openness, in my experience, leads to relaxation and sanity. And this is one area that, while I haven’t been secretive, I haven’t known how to talk about.

Partially, it’s ’cause I’m a man. This is an Oprahcized issue. I read an article 10 years ago that I still remember, think I was living in Boston at the time…about how 25% or something of we men battle some degree of eating disorder, but there’s no support for us. It’s not something we feel comfortable talking about.

But if you notice weight gain and loss in a buddy, or your fave man pulling his tummy in, he’s probs got an issue. And mild as it might be, it might be consuming 5% of his love for life, day by day. And that’s a little tragedy.

Luckily, having moved back to Boulder 11 years ago—we’ve been named fittest and healthiest town in the country—I’ve naturally been encouraged to make healthy, real (Michael Pollan-would-approve) food choices (we were also  named foodiest town in the US this year). And I’ve been encouraged by the weather (300/365 days of sunshine) and natural surroundings (mountains and open space close by) to learn to climb, road bike (just started, finally, this month) and do yoga. Without those physical and culinary pleasures, I’d likely be like most of my peers: sitting around, watching sports, potbellied in an acceptable, mannish, beer-drinking way. And, secretly, I’d hate myself, a little. And, occasionally, I’d joke about it, but I wouldn’t know how to actually talk about it, ever.

[galleria]

The first time I remember not liking my body? When I was, maybe, 8 years old. I’d had baby fat, lost it, then had it again. I kind of objectively noticed that I had one of those little kid tumtums, and wondered what it was doing there. Why had it come back?

Then, all my childhood, I was embarrassed to take off my shirt. Effected every single time I went swimming. What. A. F*cking. Downer.

Then, I turned 14. I fell in love. I started dieting a bit…just starving myself. That continued for 10 years. Whenever I met a girl, I’d starve myself. Whenever I went to a new thing—school, a job, a summer trip—I wouldn’t eat more than a handful of granola or one apple over three days. One time, I f*cking fainted, my vision suddenly going all old-school black-and-white TV fuzz on me.

Finally, when I was 25, I met a woman named Rose. I was in perfect shape, because it was the summer and I was in a new place and I’d starved myself, in preparation. I could usually maintain being in good shape for a month or two.

But when we got into a more-or-less (long story..!) long-term relationship, over four years…it wasn’t long before my secret was out. You can’t fool someone yer livin’ with. At some point she noticed that I’d gained weight. Didn’t help that my usual gambit of keeping the fridge and shelves empty of food wouldn’t fly (she liked to cook at home). One day she said, straight up: “you’re a thin-armed big-bellied boy! What the f*ck!” She ordered us to the gym. And we started doing a ton of yoga. At 25 years of age, it was the first time I’d exercised intentionally—growing up I’d played ball and been in great shape just naturally, though often with that extra five pounds.

Another 10 years on, now, I’m still neurotic about food. My belly still absorbs some percentage of my daily energy. But not much. I never really overeat the way I used to. I still pig out all the time…but not badly. I’m now more…well, middle way about it all. Exercise has been my greatest ally. I now focus less on eating less, which never works for long. I focus less on feeling bad about eating too much…and more on making sure I bike or climb or yoga four or five days a week. If I weren’t so busybusy, I’d probably exercise 6 or 7 days a week and be in fully healthy shape for the first time in my life.

So, anyways. It’s taken me three decades to get to a place where I’m comfortable taking off my shirt anywhere, any time. Try me. And while I might not be best buds with my body, we’re on friendly terms.

BTDubya: This is offered from the pov of sharing. If you struggle with weight and body image, as so many of us do, share a little more than you have in the past. If you need to stay anonymous, do so. If you can put your name, though, do so.

Openness heals all.

Yours in the Vision of Enlightened Society,

Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis
editor-in-chief, host
elephantjournal.com, Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis

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About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | facebook.com/elephantjournal | twitter.com/elephantjournal | facebook.com/waylonhlewis | twitter.com/waylonlewis | Google+ For more: publisherelephantjournalcom

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27 Responses to “Men have eating disorders, too.”

  1. Dylan Barmmer Dylan says:

    Good on you to share, Waylon.

    I think a lot of this stuff is tied to anxiety issues. I know I have battled some stuff similar to what you described. Being raised Catholic and learning how to "fast" factors in, certainly. But I haven't always had the healthiest outlook/opinion/view of my body.

    I can say this, unequivocally…starting and maintaining a Yoga Practice has really made a Huge Difference in how I look and feel. For me personally, avoiding alcohol also makes a huge difference. I was a skinny guy with a beer gut for a time, and it wasn't pretty. The inside, unseen aspect of it all was even uglier.

    Here's to awareness and strength and vulnerability and growth. Take good care of yourself, brother. That's what being a Man means, maybe.

    Word. Peace.

    Dylan
    http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/dylanbarmmer2

  2. MoPat says:

    Re: noticing a friend gain or lose weight in a fairly short period of time: That can also be a symptom of diabetes. I learned this too late when I lost my brother Jim to a heart attack related to diabetes at age 59. We had all complimented him the summer before on how great he looked, having shed so many pounds, without even trying.

  3. Suzanne Jones Sue says:

    Fantastic. Brave and forthcoming article. I look forward to sharing it with my 14 year old son who is not comfortable with his body :(

    xo
    sue

  4. Jessica Durivage Jessica says:

    All meetings from this point forward will take place shirtless. (well, only you…). Great article Way, and beautiful honesty. I have never been fully comfortable with my body. Day after day of ashtanga yoga just to sustain toned legs and arms is not really the point. Accecptance has been gradual and becoming more and more graceful as I get older.
    Bravo to you. Very inspiring.

    • elephantjournal says:

      It's funny, though, to be serious—in summer's I lose the most weight naturally, and wear the least, and have the least ability to hide anything…and so feel the most relaxed and at peace with my tumtum. ~ W.

  5. Jean LeBlanc says:

    Wyalon, some time I'd love to hear your life story. Must be fascinating.

  6. Tam says:

    Thanks Waylon, a beautifully honest and positive tale of a mans battle. Im encouraged and further enlightened by the swift and brave responses :) I read a friends message the other day with a heavy heart, he stated "men, just dont get eating disorders", well, they do, and its imperitive to speak of it, mild, medium or raging, in whatever form, THANKS again, Tam :)

  7. RIch K says:

    FIrst and foremost, thank you to Waylon and all the commentors. You all have traveled some interesting/difficult/frightening/enlightening paths. You are all better for doing it.

    My story is not unlike Waylon's. I have always felt that my body was "lesser" than those of others around me. I never had trouble taking of my shirt until I was about 25, when I realized that I was getting overweight and becoming unhealthy. I started to make small changes and learn about nutrition (actual nutrition, not the bullshit that they try to feed us about eating a low-fat, high-grain diet). I started listening to my body. I started to feel better, but my body image wasn't changing, neither was my weight.

    To be continued, too long

  8. Rich K says:

    Last year was a particularly difficult year for me for a number of reasons (if you must know, I lost my job, got hit by a car and a truck, both while biking, and was indirectly struck by lightning while cought on a sailboat in a terrible storm). I was lucky, though. I walked away from all of that with nothing more than a couple of bruises, really awesome bruises. What I didn't realize was how much those ordeals had effected my psychologically…..until I started practicing yoga. My little sister got me a mat and a couple of private classes for my birthday last year. I was immediately hooked. I felt my confidence surge as soon as I saw what the people at my first practices could do. I was obviously the weakest one in the room (which was a new experience for me, being male and built sturdily and in a room with three women), but that opened my eyes to my potential. And that is all it took.

    I am now a year into my vinyasa practice. I'm down 40 pounds. I have taken 5 inches off of my waist. Most importantly to me, though, is the fact that I have found a sense of peace with myself. I finally feel comfortable in my own skin. So, thanks, yoga.

    Peace and love,
    Rich

    • elephantjournal says:

      Wow. I got chills reading that last paragraph. Amen. Thanks for sharing brother.

      Yours,

      Waylon

  9. vanessafiola says:

    I can't even tell you how much I loved this insightful and heartfelt piece. As a woman, I could totally relate, but then, to your point, there are support groups for gals like me. Thank you for your boldness.

  10. [...] to ignore the knots 99% of the time, continuing to stay numb through what I knew I was good at: not-eating, being too thin and excessive working out. This was a safe place in my mind where no knot, however [...]

  11. Katie says:

    Hi Waylon,_Thank you so much for this piece- I can relate all too well. __This is my first time posting on EJ, although i have been an avid reader for a while. I have struggled with eating disorders- first anorexia for a couple of years, then overeat/ restrict cycle. As much as i would like to be passed all this and have a healthy "normal" relationship with food, I still struggle with emotional eating. With anorexia, there was a sense of control even though I was clearly out of control and more people were able to see what was going on. More of a direct, visible cry for help. Once I was physically healthier, many assumed all was well and it was harder (and still is) for me to express and admit to the emotional and mental mind games that remain.

  12. Katie says:

    As for emotional overeating, sometimes I use food unintentionally to try to feed a hunger or desire that can't be met through food such as sex, connection, and intimacy (a latest realization). Often I eat to suppress- any point where feelings get too intense that i want to block them out for a while and food turns in to my drug of choice. And then there is such guilt afterwords. Most people would never know this as my weight is considered "healthy" because i exercise regularly (and sometimes overcompensate) to try and keep this frustrating cycle hidden from the outside world.

    So again thank you for this- your last sentence really touched me- "If you struggle with weight and body image, as so many of us do, share a little more than you have in the past". It's so helpful to hear the stories of others!

  13. [...] little while ago, Waylon Lewis wrote a brave and honest article about his own struggles with an eating disorder, and put a call [...]

  14. Thanks so much for this article!! It is awesome to hear a man speak up about his struggles!!!

  15. [...] any of you are fans of Elephant Journal you know that Waylon Lewis recently posted an article about his battle with food issues and eating disorders. Having been both anorexic and bulimic on my [...]

  16. [...] anyone before. Today I am telling you. Okay, deep inhalation, and here I go. (Oh! And thank you Waylon and JC for the [...]

  17. [...] is misconception that people who suffer from eating disorders are easy to spot; emaciated, drawn, pale, lifeless, and lying on a couch all day. The majority of [...]

  18. [...] weeks ago on the elephant journal Waylon Lewis, the founder of the site, spoke out about his struggles and I applaud him for his bravery. When I [...]

  19. [...] weeks ago Waylon Lewis, the founder of this site, spoke out about his struggles and I applaud him for his bravery. When I [...]

  20. Sara L says:

    SO brave. Love you.

  21. elephantjournal says:

    Writing this article, in Boulder, at a cafe, I saw at least 30 folks walking by smoking…! So all of life, including Boulder, is full of contradictions..! ~ Waylon

  22. elephantjournal says:

    Love this: "I think that my family history has a lot to do with that. Having been through absolute poverty, my forebears ate when they could. There were times when we just didn't have much food, and so would go for a day or two without anything other than a bowl of cereal. I compare that to friends whose families didn't experience absolute poverty, and they eat much more regularly, regardless the emotional state they are in. They have a different relationship with food; it is less connected with their emotional well-being because it's always been there."

    I grew up super-poor, didn't always have money or food around the house, let alone presents at Christmas, and still have a feeling of hoarding or "saving up" food. Silly me. ~ W.

  23. elephantjournal says:

    Thanks so much for that. Really made me sad in a good way, for some reason. I met with my meditation instructor today and he said that sadness is the hallmark of enlightenment…something like that, only more eloquently and simply. I don't at all mean to say I'm enlightened…but rather the opposite, that it's in relaxing and feeling tender and sad and open about everything that we can walk that middle way. ~ Way

  24. elephantjournal says:

    Thank you for sharing and not at all boring, in the slightest.

    It's a tough battle, daily, and those of us who are fools enough to fight it always lose one way or the other. It's only been through sunshine and exercise…and yoga, and meditation, and good food, but mostly just simply daily exercise that I enjoy—enjoying being the most important part—that I've kinda crawled out of this lifelong sinkhole and am probably in most consistently okay shape of my life, last few years…more importantly even just not using so much of my mind fighting that daily losing battle, that only bruises ourselves.

    Jolly good luck, sweetheart, as Chogyam Trungpa used to say—

  25. elephantjournal says:

    Wow. Well, if you ever feel emboldened or okay enough to share in depth, on elephant, we'd be honored to share your story. write@elephantjournal.com and I'm sure others would find it heartening to know you're coming through a difficult journey, the kind I can only imagine.

    Yours, with love,

    Waylon

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