July 28, 2011

Men have eating disorders, too.

From 2011. This is our editor’s weekly, well, editor’s letter. To subscribe to our, well, weekly newsletter, free, click here.


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.

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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