What It’s Like Being a Guy with Binge Eating Disorder
A personal perspective.
Posted January 31, 2017
The following is a guest post by Ryan Sheldon of Confessions of a Binge Eater.
Growing up, my mom always made excuses for my overeating. She’d tell me, "Don’t worry, Ryan. You're a growing boy"; or she would defend me to others—"He’s just big boned”—and laugh it off. While it is true that I’m a “big guy,” standing tall at 6’4”, what none of us realized was that I was suffering from Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and have been for most of my life.
My name is Ryan Sheldon. I’m 28 years old, have a good job in technology and enjoy hanging out with family and friends. I play the piano, go hiking with my dog and love seeing new movies. To most, I look like a normal Southern California 20-something, and they would have no idea that I suffer from an eating disorder.
Case in point: I was recently talking to a couple friends and mentioned that I had BED and they laughed. They thought I was kidding and couldn’t understand how a guy like me could have an eating disorder. Again, I seem like a confident happy guy on the outside. It’s hard for people to understand that I have these demons.
I can’t tell you exactly how my BED started or developed, but I know this: I always loved food, and when I was young, it seemed normal. I mean, what healthy boy doesn’t scarf down food non-stop and burn it all up anyway? As I grew older, I continued my love affair with food, and again, it always seemed within reason, even if I loved it more than most.
But eventually I started thinking about food all the time. And not just about the eating part; I would wake up obsessing about food and planning my meals, and not just the next one, but tomorrow’s, and the ones later in the week, especially the weekend, when I knew I would be free to shop, cook and eat to my heart’s delight—all before even eating that day.
Soon, that wasn’t enough. I started visiting fast-food restaurants in between meals. Then hitting two, back to back, even developing a strategy for which foods were good to wolf down while I drove and which I’d have when I got home. There was endless planning—for binging and for hiding it.
And the cost—$20 at Taco Bell, then $30 at Wendy’s—$50, $60, $70 spent at fast-food restaurants, all in-between meals.
Once, a friend and I decided to have a cooking get-together on a Friday night and I was so obsessed with having cheese fries that I ordered a special fryer online and paid the extra money to have it sent overnight so it would arrive in time. It did, and I indulged.
The following day, I knew I had to make amends. The fryer had to go. So into the garbage it went, a perfectly good, new fryer. Then came the shame and guilt of having planned the session, for having binged, and for wasting money by throwing away a perfectly good appliance.
It was around that time that my therapy sessions, which I had been going to for years, really started turning toward my relationship with food. That led to my being diagnosed with BED, and that’s when I really started taking it seriously. It was a big turning point: just knowing this thing I was suffering from was real and not my imagination. It gave me a sense of hope, a feeling that I wasn’t alone in my struggles. (Even though I did feel slightly embarrassed. I’m a guy—how can I have an eating disorder?)
As I started working with my therapist on BED, I stopped minimizing everything I was experiencing. I used to try and shrug off my food issues and I struggled silently. I was embarrassed to admit how severely my life was being affected by this seemingly benign predilection. However, after owning my BED, I started being more open about my disorder and was no longer afraid to share it with other people. And while not everyone has understood, I have also come into contact with so many people who are facing the same, or similar, challenges, and it has been so reaffirming. It really has further helped me start to turn things around.
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For instance, I just got an email from a mother who thanked me for what I am doing. Her teenage son has anorexia and has been going to treatment for a few months. Her son feels so much shame and can’t even bring himself to eat in front of friends. I also received another thank you from a wife whose husband has an eating disorder and is struggling with it. It has made me realize that there is one common thread through this all: the belief that guys don’t have eating disorders. And hearing from all these people has been cathartic—it makes me realize I’m making a difference.
Today, there are more good days than bad, but I still have my moments: when I booked both legs of the flight for my upcoming holiday trip, I made sure I would arrive on both occasions just in time for dinner, because the thought of missing a meal, or chance to eat, was upsetting. It is moments like this that make me realize I have BED and will not be like other people when it comes to food and eating.
I can see the triggers coming now, so when I feel an urge to binge I’ve learned to keep busy and become structured. One thing that really helps me is pre-planning my meals. When I was in my disease I used to love planning all of my meals and would obsess over them, sometimes weeks in advance. Now, I plan no more than two days in advance. It helps me, especially if I have events or social activities, and am not sure when I’ll have time to eat dinner. I never want to find myself too hungry with nothing healthy to eat. Otherwise, my disease will send me to the nearest junk food aisle. That being said, I also am aware of not being too strict about the foods I eat. I want freedom to have anything, not just salads for the rest of my life. I’m trying to be more healthy and thoughtful, but being too much so would just be another costume of the monster.
Another thing that has been really helpful is not being hard on myself. Yes, I still have relapses, but not like I used to. If I binge I just go ahead and binge and don’t sit around and dwell on it. It’s the shame and beating myself up afterwards that really feeds the eating disorder. Instead, I tell myself, “It is what it is.” And then I move on, as quickly as possible. I’m not perfect, and neither is recovery.
I understand that BED will most likely be a part of me for the rest of my life, but today I have a level of control over my binging thanks to the help of my therapist. I also think being open about the disease has helped me overcome the shame of BED. Shame is a big driving force for binging, and as that diminishes the food also is less enticing.
It’s not easy being a man with an eating disorder. I just want to be normal with food and exercise. I want to be the guy who can grab a casual burger with friends and not want 3 more. I want to be the guy who can go to the gym and not beat myself up for what I believe is a sub-par workout. I want to be the guy who doesn’t care about his jean size, or at least cares a lot less than I currently do. However, I find solace in the fact that it’s not “my fault” that I have this eating disorder. It is like catching a cold: it just happened, and now I need to deal with it.
I am committed to working on myself until I totally beat the beast that is BED. And as I continue to stand up to my disease, I feel proud that I can hopefully inspire other men, who are hiding in the shadows, to do the same. My biggest desire is to rid the shame of being a man with BED. BED is not glamorous and it’s not fun, but it’s real and it’s painful and it has taken up too much of my life. I have other things to do with my life than stress about food and eating. I hope other guys can hear my story and start addressing this issue in them, because there is a way through BED—but first you need to identify it and admit: guys can have eating disorders too.
Ryan Sheldon is founder of Confessions of a Binge Eater, a blog he created to share his journey with binge eating disorder (BED). Ryan hopes his story will help others suffering from BED overcome shame and embarrassment, as well as gain back control over food.
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