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The road to recovery

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By Christian Henry

A portrait of anorexia (Khai Le)

By Christian Henry

For the past four years of my life, everything has been weighed down by the fact that I wake up every morning and inevitably step onto the scale. It is always followed by a sick feeling of disappointment.

After seeing how much I weigh, I turn to the mirror and get lost in it for half an hour or so, checking my bones from top to bottom, cheeks to ankles, deciding whether or not to skip breakfast.

You would think this would be the typical routine of a young woman with an eating disorder. But what’s not so typical is that I am no female, but a young man standing at 5 feet 9 inches and weighing no more than 89 pounds, emaciated limbs akimbo.

It’s hardly a secret anymore. I do in fact suffer from Anorexia Nervosa, a disorder which is characterized by low body weight and body image distortion, with an obsessive fear of gaining weight.

It is a condition that can lead to death if severe enough-approximately 20 percent of all cases.

Individuals with anorexia are known to control body weight commonly through the means of voluntary starvation, purging, vomiting, excessive exercise or other weight control measures. While the condition primarily affects adolescent females, approximately 10 percent of people diagnosed with the disorder are male.

People tend to ask me how it happened. The ask how a guy could actually get this problem that usually only shows up in females. I do not have most of the answers; I can only offer to share my experience.

As far as I can remember, I was in my late grade school years when it all started.

I would have never imagined that after my 14th birthday, I would end up in a doctor’s office while questions were being thrown at me from an eating disorder diagnostics book. They concluded I was just depressed and should be put on Prozac.

A year later, weighing no more than 87 pounds, I found myself in a hospital bed with a feeding tube securely nested in my stomach.

Two months after, I checked myself into the Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center, later realizing that this would not be the last time I would go into treatment. Treatment turned out to be unsuccessful, for the most part, because I was a male.

I felt very unwelcome and awkward. The therapists guided me through this special recovery program aimed at what we saw was wrong with the female body, not the males. I was the only boy there and would be at my next treatment, as well as the one after that.

I was incredibly lonely and couldn’t relate. I would lie and just give in, eating what I was told to, knowing that I could lose the weight I had put on the second I was deemed “recovered.”

It wasn’t until I found a treatment center in Pasadena that specialized in both males and females that I would start building hope for my recovery.

It is hard to pinpoint the reasons why males develop anorexia or bulimia. Research from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders has shown that the ideal size for males are getting smaller and smaller just like the ideal size of a woman.

Runway models and A-list actors are spotlighting this trend. Some are now speaking out on a personal level with the struggles of being a male with dieting problems, such as Billy Bob Thornton.

But with the male population growing more susceptible to anorexia and bulimia, treatment is getting more expensive.

Eating disorders are just as expensive as they are dangerous. While treatment should be sought, you should sort out your finances beforehand.

As hard as it may be, people need to understand that an eating disorder is not just a diet gone too far or a phase, it is a life-threatening problem that needs to be addressed and dealt with.

I am living proof that it is not a problem that only young women face day-to-day. Young or old, male or female, rich or poor, there’s always hope that you can get better, turn your life around and start living a healthy life.

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