By: Ari Snaevarsson
Men: When was the last time you asked a friend if he’s okay?
Why did it take me over four years to even admit what I was going through was an eating disorder? Why, when I confided in others about my dieting practices and intense binge-eating sessions, did I get only a concerned look with an empty platitude to the effect of “you’ll be fine”? Why do my male clients pick up their talking speed when we address how they view their body?
Unfortunately, the male eating disorder experience, which is only a microcosm of the broken male experience in general, has remained a mystifying concept accepted by many but believed by few. It’s apparent where the problem lies, but the trouble is that it’s such an ugly and uncomfortable topic to deal with, so the end result is total neglect.
Lets change that by starting a much-needed conversation. And what is that conversation? No matter how much I try to package it nicely and make it fun and interesting, it comes down to one undeniable facet of the male experience.
Men, when was the last time you asked a friend if he’s okay? When was the last time you pushed through that initial bout of discomfort when an emotional dialogue is coming, so that you could really reach your friend (or family member, peer, coworker, client, etc.)?
This isn’t fun to think about, but it’s imperative. Within most “masculine” male circles, there’s a constant underlying fear that your insecurity will slip out. There’s a fear that you’ll say something about your girlfriend that sounds too “mushy,” or you’ll admit to an interest of yours that isn’t traditionally seen as masculine. Or, god forbid, you’ll talk about how you’re actually feeling.
I’ve lived with six different roommates in my life, and I can tell you firsthand this is not just a “me thing.” Masculinity is a confusing concept that, thanks to a plethora of complex social factors, is much more often feigned and forced than explored and embraced.
Sadly, eating disorders are just as widely misunderstood. We see the caricature representations of eating disorder victims in movies, shows, and nutrition textbooks, and we take this as fact. So it’s no wonder, when these two perplexing issues are combined, that we feel so lost and helpless.
But rather than purport to have a silver bullet solution in here for you, I will only leave you with the courageous and all-important task of carrying on this conversation. How? Here are five of the most important roles you can play:
Having suffered through years of ED-induced self-loathing and isolation, I can tell you firsthand the degree to which you can save lives by being an agent of change in this realm. Empowering men to open up about and seek help for their eating disorders benefits everyone. The atrocious acts of senseless violence and soaring male suicide rates are an extreme depiction of what can happen when the idea of opening up about our emotions becomes scarier than the idea of ceasing to exist.
Ari Snaevarsson is a nutrition coach who works primarily with clients who suffer from disordered eating patterns. He also works as a counselor, dietetic technician, and on-call facilities manager at a residential eating disorder treatment center. In both capacities, he helps clients develop positive relationships with food and their bodies. His book, 100 Days of Food Freedom: A Day-by-Day Journey to Self-Discover, Freedom from Dieting, and Recovery From Your Eating Disorder, outlines a simple, day-by-day process to recovery from one’s eating disorder.
Stepping out of your comfort zone is something I have struggled with for years. Before my eating disorder I was a social butterfly, fearless, loved being around new people and seeking adventure. Once ED took over, I stayed away from the social scene. I made up excuses constantly. I avoided my close friends and family. I missed out on memories I will never get back. My mother was the only person I would vent to. She took me to different doctors and they would hand me papers with the definition of anorexia on them and tell me to eat more. Like it was that easy. Just this past year I was thinking of every excuse I could think of to not go out to eat with my family. Something as simple as going to my parent's house for dinner would give me anxiety. People close to me assumed something was wrong but no one brought it up to me. I didn’t talk to anyone about what I was dealing with. Not because I thought they wouldn’t listen, but because I wasn’t ready to admit it to myself, let alone anyone else; that I did in fact have an eating disorder.
I wanted out. I wanted to stop living that way. My family needed me, and I needed them. A few months back I decided to start talking more. I moved to a new state, found new groups and organizations and realized I wasn’t as alone as I thought I was. So I started talking. I told my husband more, and he thanked me for it. He was finally able to talk to me about it without the fear of me getting upset. I told my close friends, and they said they knew. They just didn’t know how to bring it up to me. I then wrote my first blog. Which is something I never thought I would do, especially about my eating disorder.
Writing that blog was taking a step out of my comfort zone. Talking to people was taking a step out of my comfort zone.
One day as I was scrolling through Facebook and read information on a fundraiser being held close to me. I learned that the money being raised would help fund clinician led free group therapy for people struggling with an eating disorder. I wanted to go. I bought tickets. Then I talked myself out of going, then talked myself into going again. On the way there I even thought of an excuse not to go and tried asking my husband to turn around. I am so thankful he didn’t. As soon as I walked into the room I felt at ease. I felt comfortable. I went up and introduced myself to people, I listened to amazing, inspirational stories, and I talked. I watched other people talk. I realize how important it is to talk.
Recently my mom told me how much relief she felt when I told her I was ok with her talking about it as well. I was no longer afraid, I needed to talk to people and I wanted them to talk back.
If you take anything away from this blog, I hope you know that someone is waiting for you to talk to them. Tell them the good, the bad, and they ugly. Allow them to listen to you. No one should struggle alone. We are in this together.
Brittany wants to live in a world where people help to inspire and lift each other up. She’s been married for 7 years to her best friend, and together they have two amazing, wild, and loving kids. Her mom, dad, brothers, and grandparents are some of her biggest supporters. When she’s not working as a skill coach to young adults with autism, she enjoys running 5ks, reading, and hanging out at home with her family. She also love strolling the aisles of Target with a Starbucks drink in hand. She has spent the last 11 years enduring, recovering, and relapsing from her eating disorder. She now wants to help raise awareness, and advocate for those who may need it.