My name is Michael, I’m 27 years old, and I’ve had an eating disorder for thirteen years. When it started, everyone jumped to attention right away. Well, almost. It was six months before they noticed.

My mom didn’t know what to do. I just stopped eating one day. I kept losing weight. I passed out whenever I stood up. I couldn’t carry my backpack to school so I had two sets of books — one for school and one for home. I had to take the elevator because I couldn’t climb the stairs. I had bruises all over my body. But this wasn’t enough to convince me I needed help. I needed to destroy myself more.

A year went by. I was 15 years old. It felt like my therapist had given up on me, and my doctor was angry at me for “not wanting to get better.” I was suicidal. I wasn’t able to sleep longer than 30 minutes at a time. I couldn’t stop shaking. My chest hurt. It was hard to breathe. I had muscle spasms for no reason. My fingers and toes began to lock up. My hair was starting to completely thin out. The bruises spread. It became harder and harder to see. Then one day at school, I was called up to give a report for World History and as I stood up, I passed out and slammed my head on the desk next to me. I don’t remember what happened after that, but I woke up in the hospital with a killer headache, a wrap around my head and IVs in both arms. I was connected to monitors. Confused, I tried to call for someone. But I couldn’t speak. I was too tired to speak. Someone came in and explained to me that my heart stopped. I almost died right there in World History.

The doctor explained that my anorexia had been out of control and that this type of response was “only a matter of time.” I tried to focus on his voice but I couldn’t. I passed out and woke up several days later. They also inserted a feeding tube (though I had no memory of them doing that). All I could think of were the calories pouring into my body. I tried to pull it out but doctors rushed in and handcuffed me to the bed. I felt powerless, angry and scared.


A couple of weeks later, they decided I needed to go to an eating disorder program, that a regular psychiatric unit wasn’t going to be able to help me with my eating disorder. They told me to sit tight, they’d find one for me. Days went by, and one program after another turned me down. My doctor couldn’t believe it.

And the worst part: I was actually being turned down because of my gender. I could hear him yell at a couple of programs from my room. “He’s dying, don’t you understand that? He needs treatment now, he can’t wait much longer!” And one by one, they all said no.

“If we send him home, he will die. There’s nowhere else equipped to handle a case like this,” he said to my mom, explaining the situation. At the time, not a single program in Massachusetts would take me. My mom wouldn’t stop crying. I felt lower than dirt.

I was already telling myself I wasn’t good enough, and being denied treatment only reiterated that belief.

Then one day, I found myself being wheeled out of the ICU. “What’s going on?” I croaked. The lights hurt my eyes and the cold wind felt like it was tearing into my skin. “We found a program willing to take you,” my doctor said as my stretcher was being loaded into the ambulance.”You are very, very lucky.” The doors closed.

I was lucky. At the time, we could only find one eating disorder program that accepted males in my area.

But the unfortunate truth is that while 10 million men in the United States will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life — as compared to 20 million women — studies suggest the mortality rate is higher for males than it is females.

But still, it seems like when we talk about eating disorders, we always refer to females. This makes a lot of males feel that having an eating disorder makes them “less of a man,” or less than who they are. But the truth is that having an eating disorder doesn’t give you an identity. It can feel that way, but it doesn’t. It’s an illness, like cancer or the flu. But seeking treatment is daunting and terrifying, especially if it’s not easily accessible. This isn’t fair and it needs to change.

I was lucky. But what about those men or boys who live in areas that lack treatment options?

I don’t have any answers. I only know that if you’re having trouble finding treatment for your eating disorder, don’t give up. When more men and boys who reach out for help, the demand for treatment will be noticed. We, all of us, need to fight together for more equal access to treatment because the alternative is too much of a price to pay. We need to change the gender-exclusive way we talk about eating disorders. Perhaps then, we will finally stand a chance at truly fighting this illness together.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.


Editor’s note: This piece contains descriptions of eating disorder behavior that might be triggering for some. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

You got up this morning, stretched and staggered into the kitchen. Depending on your preference, you waited impatiently for coffee or tea, and then set about completing your morning routine. Maybe you’re a breakfast eater. Maybe not. You showered, got dressed and got ready to face the day, either at work or at home, again depending on where you are in your life. Lunch time rolled around and you were hungry, so you grabbed some food. An all-in-one meal from a fast food restaurant, or maybe you made yourself a sandwich. You were hungry a little later so you had some chips and a soda. You were going to make something for dinner, but friends called, so you headed out to the pub for some appetizers and dinner, maybe a beer or two. Once back at home, you did a few chores, watched some TV, grabbed another snack and once you were tired, you headed off to bed. As you were brushing your teeth, you realized you didn’t get in any exercise, but figured you’d get to it tomorrow, no big deal. You didn’t count calories. You didn’t give much thought to what you ate. You didn’t beat yourself up and call yourself foul names because you didn’t exercise. It never once occurred to you to throw up your dinner. You lived your day complete with food and friends because that’s how you do life. It’s what would be considered “normal.”

I haven’t had a day like that since I was 11 years old and since I’m 46 now, that’s a long time to go without touching normal.

I’ve met people over the course of my life that, once they learn I have an eating disorder, are eager to share the story of their own forays down that dark path. They talk about how they “used to be bulimic” because one summer at camp a group of them all decided to throw up their dinner every day, but then once they got home, they were cured. The talk about how they “used to be anorexic” because once, for a month, they ate only fruit and lost 15 pounds, but then they stopped and were cured. The anecdotes go on and on.


It seems that some people, except those afflicted, want to lay claim to an eating disorder. Implicit in their stories is the question why; why can’t I stop if they did? Believe me, if I could have stopped, I would have. If I could’ve changed my thought patterns so that every moment wasn’t an exercise in self-hatred, I would have. Those conversations enrage me. Trying on some bad eating behaviors for a period and then abandoning them is not the same as having an eating disorder.

When I broke up with my first love, I rebounded into alcohol and reckless behavior. A lot of alcohol. However, after a couple of months of getting drunk every weekend, of living with the hangovers and the empty wallet and the spotty memory, I’d had enough. I stopped. Drinking with reckless enthusiasm for a couple of months is not the same as being an alcoholic. It meant that I acted badly for a couple of months and then straightened up. I have yet to “straighten up” from my eating disorder. But my point is this: a few months of aberrant eating does not mean you have an eating disorder. For that, count yourself lucky.

I am currently five months “sober.” That means, for the last five months, I’ve eaten relatively normally; three meals and a couple of snacks every day, no excessive exercising, no vomiting. This is the longest I have been abstinent of eating disorder behavior (excluding the three months I spent at a rehab, and even there I restricted somewhat) since I was 19.

An eating disorder is not a game. An eating disorder is hell. It has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. It’s starving yourself until you can’t sleep, until you can’t think, until you can’t do anything but think about the next allotment of food. It’s driving around in your car from fast-food restaurant to fast-food restaurant, spending $20 at a time, shoving the food down your throat so fast it has no taste and then vomiting until the blood vessels in your eyes burst. It’s lying to everyone about your eating patterns and weight loss and weight gain. It’s learning to shop at a variety of different food stores so no one is aware of how much you’re buying. It’s lying to cashiers about this or that upcoming party so they don’t question the cakes and ice cream. It’s exercising for four hours straight and still hating yourself for the flesh on your bones. It’s thousands and thousands of dollars spent on food you throw up, exercise equipment you abuse and products to hide the evidence – air fresheners, breath mints and garbage bags for when you have to throw up in your room. It’s eating for an hour and throwing up for an hour, over and over for days on end until you pass out. It’s vomiting until there’s blood coming up from your lacerated esophagus and seeping from the infected sores on your hands. It’s shoplifting laxatives, water pills and mouthwash so that no one knows how much of them you use. It’s ulcers in your stomach, a devastated bone density and teeth rotting and falling out. It’s the knowledge you’re killing yourself and being desperate to stop, but continuing the behavior anyway. It’s starving yourself for a month and then binging for three days straight, vomiting until you pass out. It’s suicidal thoughts and attempts. It’s feeling like you can’t live in the hell your life has become.

What isn’t it? It isn’t a transitory thing you try on. It isn’t a crash diet. It’s not the same as that time you had the stomach flu for a whole weekend. It’s doctors who don’t understand you, nurses who deride you, emergency room personnel who judge you and ambulance drivers who think you’re wasting their time. It’s a family you are devastating and friends who beg you to get help because everyone is watching you kill yourself slowly. It’s wanting help, but to accept it would mean you’d get “fat,” and to you, that would make you just as much a failure as you already are.

It’s hell.

But I’m five months free of my behavior. The other side, all the underlying crap that drives the behavior, that’s harder. I struggle to believe I have value if I’m not skeletal. I struggle to believe people actually care about me; that they will like me even if I’m not perfect. I struggle with my voice, the one thing I want to learn to share. I want to be authentic; I want to say “to hell with you” to the people out there that judge, and criticize and detract. I want to grow a thick skin. I want to be able to say I love myself, I’m happy with myself and I’m an OK person — and believe it.

But for now, for today, I will take the five months and consider myself blessed.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

This year, France followed in Israel‘s footsteps, banning models deemed “ultra-thin” — as in, under what’s considered a healthy body mass index (BMI) — from working in the fashion industry.

Now, two eating disorder experts from Harvard University say America should do the same.

In an editorial published in the American Journal of Public Health, Prof. S. Bryn Austin, director of the Harvard Chan School of Public Health’s Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders, and Katherine L. Record, deputy director of Accountable Care and Behavioral Health Integration at the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, argue that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which regulates workplace safety, should place a ban on hiring models below a certain BMI.

Currently, the average international runway model has a BMI under 16. The measure French lawmakers passed requires models to have a BMI of at least 18, which, according to the World Health Organization, is actually just a tad below what’s considered a “normal” BMI for an adult.

“One of the pressures we are very concerned about is the expectation that [models] be extremely thin — thin beyond what anyone would consider healthy and certainly beyond what any physician would consider healthy,” Austin, one of the paper’s authors, told WBUR.

“They’re really putting pressure on these young women and girls and sometimes boys to risk starvation — self-starvation in a way — to achieve the standards to be able to work in the industry,” he said.

The National Eating Disorder Association states the social factors that can contribute to eating disorders — along with biological factors and psychological factors — include: cultural pressures that glorify “thinness,” narrow definitions of beauty and cultural norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance. “Numerous correlational and experimental studies have linked exposure to the thin ideal in mass media to body dissatisfaction, internalization of the thin ideal and disordered eating among women,” its site says.

Isabelle Saint-Felix, head of France’s National Union of Modeling Agencies, disagrees that the ban will stop people from developing anorexia. “When you look at the criteria behind anorexia, you can’t look only at the body mass index when other criteria are also involved: psychological, a history of hair loss, dental problems,” she told the Agence France-Presse. “It’s important that the models are healthy, but it’s a little simplistic to think there won’t be any more anorexics if we get rid of very thin models.”


But according to Austin, the ban would benefit models who are sometimes pressured to undergo unhealthy measures to lose weight, and those who consume what he calls the “toxic media environment” the fashion industry has created.

The point is not to punish the models themselves — we know they don’t need any more punishment, they’re already working under horrendous conditions. The purpose of these regulations would be to prevent agents, their employers, from forcing them to keep their weight so low, to lose weight in order to get jobs,” Austin said.

The National Eating Disorder Association suggests consumers keep in mind all media images and messages are constructions, and don’t reflect reality. For more information, check out their Digital Media Literacy Toolkit.

The last time I purged was more than a year ago on November 23, 2014. Four days later, I went to visit family for Thanksgiving. In my family and many others, Thanksgiving is the first of a little over a month-long string of holidays which involve copious amounts of food. Being put in a room with pies and meat and starches out the wazoo while attempting to control my urge to binge and purge was incredibly straining. It was an extraordinarily painful process, and I can honestly admit I didn’t think recovery would be that difficult.

While I was in recovery last year, the year before I was in the throes of my eating disorder. I have experienced Thanksgiving and Christmas while I was sick in new recovery, and this year, I will experience it in strong recovery. However, the thought of the internal, societal and familial pressures surrounding the holidays still makes me uneasy. Here are a few things we (individuals who deal or have dealt with disordered eating) struggle with during the holidays:

1. The “eating disorder voice” is constantly in our head, picking apart everything we put into our mouths.  

The concept of the “voice of our disorder” can seem like a hackneyed phrase, which can be overused within psychological circles. However, in my experience, I absolutely experience the problematic thought patterns that can function as another “voice” intermingled within my own healthy thoughts. Triggering situations, as the holidays can be, make these unhealthy thoughts incrementally louder. Even for someone in strong, steady recovery, this voice is a harmful factor, which can cause a lot of emotional turmoil and exhaustion.

2. Conflicting advice and opinions from family and friends can make the holidays a scary experience.  

Even the most well-meaning aunt who persuades you to eat more food so she will not have leftovers can be extremely overwhelming to someone struggling with eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. In my own family, I have members who encourage me to eat more than I would like while others tell me to limit how much I eat. I think both of these opinions are equally detrimental, and coupled with each other, they can cause a lot of pain and confusion for someone for whom food is a source of anxiety.


3. Your comment about how you wish you could lose weight before a company Christmas party can be triggering.  

For someone haunted by their perception of their weight, a comment about yours is the last thing they need to hear. If you don’t have great self-esteem yourself, I completely understand because I used to be this person. I understand the need to vent to someone, but finding someone who can healthily listen to your complaints and fears without jeopardizing their own mental health is wildly important.

4. Don’t make negative comments about what we do or do not eat at a family function. Don’t tell us we need to eat something to be polite.  

Chances are, if we are battling our eating disorder, we are already struggling enough with this. Particularly if we are in recovery, we are trying as hard as we possibly can. I remember last year I had strange and systemic rituals to make sure I would not binge, purge or calorie count. I had to focus on something other than my tendencies in order to stop them. Making condescending (or even well-intended) comments about my eating habits or rituals causes an abundance of shame, something which is already experienced by a wide array of people with eating disorders.

5. While the holidays may bring joy to many, they bring a much wider and more complex range of emotions to us.  

I will be 100 percent honest: I love the holidays. I love spending time with family, I love Christmas movies and I even love the food. However, this genuine joy is coupled with feelings of guilt, grief and anxiety. In the lives of others, these feelings can be present for various reasons as well. For people recovering from eating disorders, they may never go away.

Learning to cope with an eating disorder during the holidays is important. If your loved one struggles with disordered eating in any form, you possess a superpower this holiday season. You can choose to be a helpful agent or a harmful one. You may never know how much your words and actions may affect how someone views themselves and experiences the holidays.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story about the holiday season related to disability, disease or mental illness. It can be lighthearted or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include an intro for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

For someone living with an eating disorder — no matter how far he or she is on a recovery journey — day-to-day eating can be daunting. The holidays pose extra challenges with work parties and family gatherings that sometimes seem to revolve around food.

So, we teamed up with the National Eating Disorder Association to ask people who live with an eating disorder what they wish others understood about the holidays.

Here’s what they want you to know:

1. “It’s not that I don’t want to come to the family dinner. It’s not that I don’t love you. While it may be relaxing and fun for you — for me, it’s a battleground. Every bite comes with my brain yelling at me. I’m trying to smile through every bite.”

it's not that I don't want to come to the family dinner. it's not that I don't love you. while it may be relaxing and fun for you - for me, it's a battleground.

2. “Just because I’ve been in active recovery for years, doesn’t mean I don’t constantly fight my disordered thoughts, especially when people are constantly talking about eating — then I keep picturing myself eating non-stop, which scares me.”

3. “Just because I’m doing well and at a healthy weight doesn’t mean my disorder is ‘cured.’ Eating in front of people is still hard and embarrassing. Even though I’ve been in recovery for two years I still struggle. Especially around the holidays.”


4. “Please don’t get angry with me when eating disorder thoughts and behaviors are highly present. I’m more than my eating disorder. We are two distinct beings united by heavy chains. When you get angry at me, I feel guilty and retreat inside my mind.”

5. “It’s hard to do all the things people find fun around the holidays when you have an eating disorder screaming in your head every moment.”

it's hard to do all the things people find fun around the holidays when you have an eating disorder screaming in your head every moment.

6. “I wish my friends and family understood that the holidays make me feel pressured to eat food I’m not necessarily comfortable eating. If I don’t eat what everyone else is eating, I get asked a million questions and it makes me feel like a spectacle.”

7. “The holidays are extremely stressful. When you say, ‘It’s the holidays, you deserve to have just one,’ it’s not that simple.”

8. “Even though it’s the holidays, commenting on food, weight, diets, anyone’s body appearance or eating habits are still off limits and very triggering.”

9. “Talking about your post-holiday diet is super triggering. Calling the holiday food ‘bad’ or ‘fattening’ is triggering. Talking about how much you’re going to ‘stuff your face,’ or how ‘fat’ you’re going to be, or that you wore your ‘fat’ pants… please, just don’t.”

talking about your post-holiday diet is super triggering.

10. “I struggled because my family didn’t understand that during holiday celebration or meal, you should not bring up the eating disorder. Don’t ask me why I’m not eating the stuffing. Don’t tell me I should eat the dessert. You just need to love me. Give me my space and have hope that by next year, maybe I’ll be in a better place.”

11. “It’s the holiday, but for me and food it’s one more day we’re getting along. I’m not going to mess up the journey I’m on to make you feel more comfortable.”

12. “Stop telling me to be happy. Let me feel my feelings. Ignoring them is part of what brought me to an eating disorder in the first place.”

stop telling me to be happy. let me feel my feelings. ignoring them is part of what brought me to an eating disorder in the first place.

13. “It hurts every single time someone refers to holiday weight gain or how they’ll have to hit the gym in the New Year.”

14. “During the holidays, I wish for others not to judge, but to simply understand. I wish for patience, a touch on the shoulder and for us to talk about things other than my eating disorder. It’s not about wanting attention, it’s about just wanting that acceptance and support… to know that those around you love you regardless.”

15. “Even when it appears I’m handling things really well, I’m still fighting the disordered thoughts. They have not gone away, but I’ve learned how to get through them. Holidays are emotional times with family and food — anytime I’m not at my normal emotional baseline, things are harder to handle.”

16. “When you go to a party with lots of food, the urge to binge or the fear that you will is scary and overwhelming.”

when you go to a party with lots of food, the urge to binge or the fear that you will is scary and overwhelming.

17. “Just because it’s a holiday, where you’re expected to be cheerful, doesn’t mean the eating disorder or other illnesses we struggle with can just disappear.”

18. “A holiday is just another day filled with struggles that need to be overcome. It becomes even more difficult because you’re surrounded by people you rarely see and strange foods you rarely eat. It gets exhausting ‘playing’ a part. Please be kind and patient so we can all get through the difficult challenges together.”

19. “If we’re looking sad or angry, it’s not because we want to spoil the holidays. It’s because it’s really hard for us to face a Christmas dinner table. We’re trying our best.”

if we're looking sad or angry, it's not because we want to spoil the holidays.

20. “I truly want to enjoy all the holiday food without feeling guilty, but it’s extremely difficult.”

21. “When social interactions become more about the food than the interaction, it becomes very difficult for me to think outside of numbers and exercise. Please be patient with me.”

22. “Treatment taught me to deal with everyday eating, but it can hardly prepare me for the holidays and all the extra occasions that revolve around food. Don’t be offended or worried if I turn down one cookie or an office party; I just need to keep my head in the right place. I want to enjoy the holidays, too.”

treatment taught me to deal with everyday eating, but it can hardly prepare me for the holidays.

*Some answers have been edited and shortened.

Related: 5 Comments to Avoid on Thanksgiving if Someone You Love Has an Eating Disorder 

Every so often, I experience a moment that drops me into a space of clear, pure and complete trust that recovery is mine for the taking. My recent relapse threatened to eat me alive, and so my work the past 18 months has been as much of a therapeutic deep dive as it has a coup against my biological drive to starve myself. Like addiction, anorexia and other types of eating disorders have a genetic component. So many of us who endure these diseases do so in part out of genetic predisposition.

Yoga has been a source of steadiness in my recovery process, and has led me to teach as well as train to become a yoga therapist. I recently took an immersion course in anatomy. The weekend started with a palpation exercise. I was paired up with a classmate, and by following the instructor’s lead, we took turns palpating — or examining by touch — each other’s skeleton. We started at the feet and worked our way to the head.

Because of my eating disorder, I’ve been driven to wear my bones. Strangely and surprisingly, as my partner palpated my skeleton, I was not preoccupied with concerns over whether my hipbones jut out, if my ribs could be sensed just under the surface of skin or whether my collarbones were abnormally pronounced. The very moment I realized my mind was calm and my body was receptive to the educational objectives of the exercise, I experienced a moment of blissful clarity.

In that moment, I recognized my bones not as an outward sign of my illness, but as an inward system that supports life — my life. I understood my skeleton as the origin of movement, stability, rotation and flexion. As the force from which I flow through sun salutations and expand gloriously in backbends. As the force that allows me to hold my daughters and husband close, and embrace those who are special to me.

In that powerful moment, I made peace with my bones and the layers of my humanity that cover them. I also made peace with my biology. I accepted my illness as one part of my life experience rather than the entirety of my identity.


Since that moment of clarity at the anatomy immersion course, I’ve experienced a subtle but profound shift in my recovery. Lately, I don’t look in the mirror for my bones. I don’t palpate my own skeleton at random times during the day, frantically searching for reassurance that my body is in check, that I have not been greedy, that I am safe in my hunger.

Disentangling hunger from a sense of safety continues to be my work. Yet, this unique and intimate experience with my bones has gifted me with a new perspective on my recovery. As a yoga therapist in training, I’m learning we experience suffering when our beliefs and patterns do not match reality. It’s true my eating disorder beliefs are incongruent with reality. Now more than ever, I’m acutely aware of this fact. My newfound relationship with my bones is proof that, despite my biology, there’s a great force within me — a life force — that can rewire those beliefs that enforce suffering and self-destruction. If today I can live with myself at the level of my bones, my conviction is that in time, my entire self will be whole and free.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a moment that was important for your mental illness recovery. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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