My name is Ryan. I was born 3 months premature, and this resulted in my having cerebral palsy. This affects my walking and balance, and I use a walker or mobility scooter to get around. Due to my handicap, I was subjected to severe bullying while growing up.
The bullying took a toll on my self-esteem, and I became preoccupied with my appearance and weight, in an attempt to not give people any additional reasons to make fun of me. Unfortunately, this eventually lead to me developing anorexia nervosa around the age of 15.
I dealt with the illness in private for the next year, with the internal struggles becoming more and more difficult to handle. I became obsessed with food intake and exercise, both of which resulted in me becoming severely malnourished.
Around the age of 17, with my weight and appetite plummeting, my parents made me go see a doctor. I was quickly diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, which looking back now is kind of surprising given that many doctors today still do not think of anorexia being the issue at hand with a male patient, at least initially. I entered inpatient treatment for 6 weeks, and it was there that I first experienced the stigma around male eating disorders. I was the only male patient for the majority of my stay, which made me feel ostracized and out of place. I definitely feel that if there would have been another male around, I would've felt more comfortable discussing my struggles.
After the inpatient and day treatment program concluded, I continued seeing a therapist and dietitian on a regular basis, with frequency becoming less and less as I progressed in my recovery over the next year or two. I was in recovery for about the next 5 years, relapsing at age 22. I returned to the same inpatient treatment center that I had been in prior; however, there was a welcomed change this time around: another guy was there. Having another male in treatment helped me to feel more comfortable within the setting and with opening up about my struggles related to the anorexia. There are some differences when it comes to eating disorders in men and women, including the reasons behind what drove the eating disorder to begin the first place, and the other guy being present gave me some peace of mind to speak out about them.
Flash forward now 5 years, and I am now in recovery pursuing a dietetics degree to become a dietitian in eating disorders. I want to use my experience for the better, and to be able to relate to patients on a level that many people cannot do. I understand that constant voice that tells you what not to do / what to do when it comes to food. I understand how even though you may want to eat and get better, it is not that easy because the ED voice is very strong.
I believe that unless you’ve had an eating disorder, you cannot fully understand it. The eating disorder results in a unique kind of thought process that people who have never dealt with an eating disorder would not understand fully. And unfortunately, the amount of education that even professionals within the medical field have about eating disorders can be quite trivial.
During my relapse at age 22, I went to the ER because of chest pain, and when I told him that it could be due to my anorexia, he asked, “Why are you anorexic?”. This question was obviously not helpful and demonstrates the lack of awareness and knowledge that doctors not specializing in eating disorders can possess. I finally was feeling comfortable asking for help, which was very difficult to do, and the doctor was not able to respond appropriately.
We must increase knowledge and awareness both within the general public and the medical profession. It is my hope as an eating disorder dietitian and advocate that I can help those struggling with eating disorders, while also helping to increase awareness and erase stigma that makes seeing help even more difficult. I know from my own experiences that having people around me who can truly understand make the recovery process a little less scary, and gives you a little more hope that you maybe can beat this thing.
I want to be one of those people that help individuals with eating disorders see how much better their life can be without it and that recovery is completely possible. I know that I cannot help those struggling if I do not stay well myself, so this is something that motivates me everyday to stay in recovery. We cannot help others until we help ourselves.
Ryan has shown real courage and determination to take what life has dealt him but not be beaten by it. We wish him nothing but success with his studies and will be delighted to see him succeed in his field and go on to help other people. Have you had your own experience of eating disorders? How do you overcome them? Let us know in the comments below.