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A Contestant on 'The Bachelorette' Opened Up About His Eating Disorder

The contestants on “The Bachelorette” got especially vulnerable this week, but Ben Smith’s revelation that he’s battled an eating disorder is particularly significant for men with eating disorders. Smith, 30, an Army veteran turned personal trainer, disclosed his eating disorder struggles to Bachelorette Tayshia Adams after physically stripping down on this week’s group date, which involved making self-portraits.

On the latter half of the date, Ben spends his time with Adams, 30, candidly speaking out about the eating disorder he fought for 15 years. He expresses that he stopped eating, exercised compulsively and developed bulimia in his teenage years, which caused him to lose a significant amount of weight. His disorder lingered well into his 20s, but he had previously kept his experience with bulimia private — he also shares that the only other person who knows about his lengthy eating disorder history is his sister, Madalyn.

Tayshia is so moved by Ben’s physical and emotional vulnerability that she awards him the coveted group date rose, but even more significant than Adams’ reaction is Smith choosing to reveal his story as a man with a history of eating disorders. Men comprise only 10-15 percent of those diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia, but the percentage of men who struggle with eating disorders is likely much higher. Eating disorders in men are heavily stigmatized because of the widespread, inaccurate belief that only girls and women struggle with eating disorders, and consequently, 70-80 percent of men with eating disorders remain untreated due to misconception that eating disorders are a “female illness.” Smith’s decision to open up to Adams about his eating disorder sheds light on how eating disorders impact men — and how many men keep their eating disorders private out of fear of judgment and stigma.

Ben Smith’s choice to publicly reveal his years-long struggle with bulimia could spread awareness of eating disorders in men and encourage other men who’ve lived with disordered eating behavior to speak out about their own experiences. Although a plethora of celebrities, from Demi Lovato to Taylor Swift, have opened up about their eating disorders, seeing a man publicly share his experiences with eating disorders is rare, likely due to the pervasive stigma surrounding men with eating disorders. But Ben Smith’s candor is encouraging — men who tuned into his powerful revelation may feel empowered to share their own disordered eating histories, especially if like Smith, they’ve been reluctant to disclose their symptoms in the past.

Ben Smith’s conversation with Bachelorette Tayshia Adams about his battle with bulimia shines a powerful spotlight on the difficulties men with eating disorders face. Hopefully, Smith’s poignant story and Adams’ supportive reaction will show “Bachelorette” viewers that eating disorders can affect people of any gender — and that eating disorders in men are always valid. And most importantly, Smith’s vulnerability about his bulimia could encourage other men to recognize their eating disorder symptoms, seek treatment and open up about their own journeys to recovery — despite the gender-based stigma they face.