Listener Email on Men and Body Image

I have always struggled with body image and feeling self concious, which is the source of my eating disorder. As a kid I had always been a binge eater like my mom, especially using it to cope with anxiety and depression. I never realized it was an issue until kids started calling me fat in 5th grade. Me and my mom went on weight watchers for two years and I got to a healthy weight and that lasted through middle school, but by the end of 8th grade, stress got to me again, as well as teasing. I was changing for a musical and my friends and I were comparing our bodies, and it turns out that what I thought were my pecs were not muscle.. lol. Embarassing.
High school was hard for me as far as body image goes, which is funny cause I look at pictures of myself then and I was 40 pounds lighter than I am now, so I’m like damn, maybe alot of it was in my head. Lol. But I hung out with alot of athletes who were all very in shape and would always hang out with their shirts off and shit. I usually kept mine on. I definitely looked different than them. I felt fat. All the time. Ever since I got told I was in 5th grade. My girlfriend at the time didn’t realize I felt like that, and one day jokingly called my a fatass. It hurt so much I broke down crying. Which definitely did not impress her. We actually broke up because of that. She had no idea that it could be a sensitive issue for guys. I later learned that while we were dating, she was making herself throw up after meals we ate together. I had no idea. I didn’t even realize someone who looked totally healthy could see themselves in a way that would make them do that.
My next girlfriend in high school was alot meaner about it actually, and she would openly talk about how much hotter she thought my friends bodies were because they weren’t “fat”. She would tease me alot about it, but this time, instead of being outward about my sensitivity, i internalized it, which ended up being when I stopped eating. I just kinda stopped. I started taking my friend’s adderall. Everyday. I loved how it made me feel, like I wasn’t hungry at all. I would eat a feel meal and it would make me sick. I lost 20 pounds, so I was at my lowest weight at my current height. 160 and 5’10. I was drained, but speedy. Even after that, she still would call me fat and make comments about my body anytime I had my clothes off.
Later on I would realize that it was a very abusive relationship, and that I didn’t have a good perspective on my body yet, but the foundation for my eating disorders had definitely been established, and the worst thing was that I couldn’t talk about it to anyone. My friends were all fit, I was afraid to be vulnerable with women, my mom and dad wouldn’t understand. It felt awful. I felt so much pressure as a guy to not talk about it. It felt like all the other men I knew were encouraged to look out at the world and not reflect on themselves, whereas for women, being body conscious was the norm.
It wasn’t just not being able to talk about it, it wasn’t a topic I saw addressed ANYWHERE, not in the media, no “big is beautiful”, shit it would be almost a decade until ‘dad bods’ were even a ‘thing’. I felt like if the gender roles had been reversed in my last relationship, the abuse would have been easier to identify. That I could have talked to someone about how she wanted me to lose weight. That it would have been a normal thing to bring up to my friends, and that they would have given me some perspective.
It wasn’t something I thought about though. Until a few months later when the adderal ran out, and I was hungry again. My body wanted food with a vengeance. It felt so good to eat, and it was hard not to overindulge. To be honest I had missed food alot.
That’s when I experimented with making myself throw up. That’s weird to say.
I had just started working at a buffet and I got to eat as much as I wanted during my lunch break. One day I had eaten too much and was uncomfortable, so I made myself throw up in the bathroom. It was gross, and hurt alot, but felt so awesome afterwards. Downright amazing. I had just eaten so much, but I was still being healthy. I started doing this everyday I worked. I had no idea bulimia was a thing. I just thought it felt good. I felt like I finally had a normal outlet for my eating.
But then it clicked. I remembered my first girlfriend and how disgusted I was by her bulemia. How i felt appalled that I had kissed her so many times, probably right after she brushed her teeth after purging. How i didn’t understand why she would do such a gross thing to herself.
I was only ever open about my eating disorder to one girlfriend. She didn’t really know about it until things got bad.
I had always felt fat around her, because she was so thin. The guys she dated before me were thin, and it seemed like she had liked them alot more than me. I kept thinking that there was someway to get her to like me more, and that the reason she didn’t was because of my size. When I met her I was around 190 pounds. I was self concious, but I tried to come off as confident. I felt like my body was so ugly though. It was hard to not be intimidated. When we were intimate, or went swimming together. I hadn’t really had that problem before. Girlfriends by then had commented that they liked my body, that I was strong, and that my body felt good. My perspective had changed a bit, but without communicating my insecurity to her, she had no way of knowing just how much a few small comments could affect me. We would watch the batchelorette with her friends and she would say things about how hot the guys were and she wouldnt realize that it made me feel so disgusting. She would complain that my legs got sweaty when we slept together.. so I slept in jeans.
I was in a rough spot in life, unemployed after college, I was eating alot with her and drinking every night. We had both gained some weight, I was at 210 pounds. The heaviest I ever had been. She suggested that I lose 5 pounds, and that was it for me. I couldn’t take my clothes off around her anymore. She started to sense that there was a problem but we didn’t really talk about it ever. She got alot more sensitive about my body at that point though. She would call me beautiful and touch my stomach and tell me that I looked strong when we were swimming. It made a huge difference to me. I dont think her comments were abusive ever, maybe a bit critical at points, but they all seemed to come from a healthy and normal perspective.
I finally got a job and things were looking up for me. I did have to spend the winter in Canada for training though so alot of change was coming. I was already pretty depressed at this point, but without anyone around things got worse. Plus the travel was all expenses paid so I could eat whatever I wanted. That lasted about a month. I was 215 now and I realized that I needed to lose some weight. I wanted to come back to my girlfriend and be a different man than the one who left. I had gotten it in my head that I could get down to 170 pounds in two months. I wanted to look like the guys she found so attractive.
For the next two months I ate 16 oz of Greek yogurt everyday, I lifted weights for 45 minutes, and I ate dinner after work only to purge it immediately afterwards. I saw results quickly. In the first month I had lost 20 pounds. In the second month I lost another 15. I was 180 pounds and I looked good. But I didn’t feel good. I felt broken and was crying all the time. I didn’t realize that I was really abusing my mind and my body by trying to change in such an unhealthy way. I was full of self hate and that’s why I was this. I felt like I was unable to nourish and love myself. To me it felt like a punishment for not being pretty enough. Like some sort of rites that I needed to undergo in order to be good enough for someone.
I tried to talk about it to my girlfriend about it some but I felt horribly ashamed. I didn’t want to let her to know I had become so self conscious and self destructive and I didn’t want her to feel guilty for being my motivation in doing this to myself. I ended up just sort of hinting about it without really asking for the help I needed. I told her that I was sick and couldn’t keep food down after dinner.
When i got back, things hadn’t really changed much between us, she didn’t seem any more attracted to me when she saw me, but she was happy to see that I had achieved my goal.
Eventually as we became closer she became alot more attracted to me. I could see that she thought I was so much more beautiful than any other guy had been to her, but it had more to do with my heart than my body. That really helped me to heal. I was now on a new mission, to love my own body the way she loved me and to treat myself right. It was amazing to me how much love could help me feel beautiful.
Eventually I told her alot more about it, but she still doesn’t understand how deeply I was hurting, or how much she has helped me heal from that (I cc’d her though so she will when she reads this lol). Being open about it really helped me though, because now she understands that my body is a sensitive issue for me. I appreciate being able to be open with her though, greatly. Having someone to talk to makes a huge difference when it comes to body image, especially for a guy.
I have lost 8 pounds In the last 5 weeks. I’m at 200 now, and fairly comfortable, but more focused on feeling good than looking a certain way. Im also focused on losing weight slowly and at a healthy pace. The last time I purged was a few weeks ago. I called her crying at work and she was very supportive.
Anyway this is my experience with eating disorders. Thanks so much for letting me share it.
Gabe -TX

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