Mine is not the face you associate with an eating disorder

I remember when I looked down at the scale and saw the number “127” looking back at me, the lowest my weight had been in nearly 20 years. It wasn’t the first time I realized I had an eating  disorder, but it was the first time I realized that if something didn’t change soon… 

…this thing was probably going to kill me. 

Mine is not the face you probably associate with eating disorders. I am a man and my face has a beard. I present as a fairly confident guy, and I hold no illusions about my body image. I am thin and I know I am thin. I do not have any desire to be thinner. I never had any desire to be thinner. 

And yet, somehow, in a matter of about eight months my weight plummeted from 170 to 127.  More than a quarter of myself was gone. I could lose eight pounds in a week. I could go entire weekends without eating. There was a brief time when I could fly up hills on my bicycle faster than  I ever had before, at least right up until the moment that my legs stopped working altogether. 

It was on one of those bike rides that I realized how bad things had gotten. After racing through 18 miles of Michigan’s backroads, I fell apart in a split second. It’s something endurance athletes call bonking, and I bonked hard. I’d been cranking along at 22 miles-per-hour and then my  legs turned to jelly, and I could barely turn the pedals at eight miles-per-hour. It took an hour to make  a return trip that should have been finished in 20 minutes. My friend Stephanie stayed back and  dragged me to the finish line. 

When I got back to the house, I limped straight toward the refrigerator intent on eating everything I could find. I swung open the fridge doors, looked around ravenously, then shut them without selecting anything. I retreated to the shower and then to my bed. 

It would be another 24 hours before I finally consumed anything. 

I weighed in at 135 pounds that day. 

I was still eight pounds away from rock bottom. 

Twenty years ago, men made up about 10 percent of the population of those who battled eating disorders.  Today, we comprise 33 percent of those cases. There are a lot of reasons for that – societal pressure,  body image issues, and anxiety just to name a few. 

Body dysphoria, something that used to be considered exclusively a women’s issue, has crossed  the gender divide. It’s a gnarly issue when a rail-thin man can look in the mirror and see an overweight person looking back at him.

But it was never my issue. 

Human beings like to feel like they’re in control of their lives, their environments, and their  circumstances. When that feeling is taken away from us, weird things happen. Stress skyrockets, anxieties overwhelm, and then the medicines we take to control both of those things produce their own unpleasant side effects. 

The year was 2020 and it felt like things were just happening all around me without my consent or  permission. Massive and life-changing decisions were spilling onto my life and into my sanity  without so much as a conversation. Of course, all of that was before the pandemic upended  everything else that I recognized as normal. 

And when I couldn’t control anything anymore, when I was reduced to a puppet at the end of a set  of strings, my unconscious mind decided it would control what it could. It was still my decision to  eat or not eat. 

It was all I had left. 

I found the cure to my anorexia when I stopped worrying about my eating disorder and started  addressing the feelings and realities associated with the total lack-of-control that had come to define my life. Once I was able to take care of that, I piled 40 pounds back onto my frame in  about five months. 

It’s a good thing I got better when I did. I’d been experiencing some of the milder secondary symptoms for months – including hair loss, dry skin, and exhaustion. I wasn’t more than a month  or two away from the more deadly complications, including renal failure and cardiomyopathy. It  wasn’t an exaggeration to think that this thing was going to kill me. 

I’m very glad that it didn’t. 

I weighed 167 pounds a week ago when a coworker referred to me as a “beanpole.” I wasn’t offended and he wasn’t wrong. At six-foot-one and with long limbs, 167 pounds stretches itself out  pretty well across my narrow frame. I am thin. I am slender. 

I am skinny. 

And I will never forget that I had to gain 40 pounds in order to be as thin as I am right now.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, call or text the National Eating Disorder Helpline  at (800) 931-2237.