Shame! Shame on you!
Made you feel bad just reading that, right? When you feel bad, when you’re afraid, you do whatever you can to avoid the feeling again. Men and boys are terrified of being bullied, told they are weak, or told they are different. We will do whatever we can to avoid that fear memory, to run from that feeling of electric shock in our bodies. But guess what, those of us who feel this hyper-responsiveness to shame and fear are the ones who are more likely to develop eating disorders or some other disorder related to numbing out. And we need help.
My friend Dr. Norman Kim, national director of programming at Reasons Eating Disorder Center in California, specializes in understanding the role of neurology in development of eating disorders. And according to him it comes down to fight or flight, doing whatever we can to avoid our emotional response. For males, the most common forms of avoidance via an eating disorder are anorexia and binge eating disorder, though of course we can’t count out compulsive exercise and bulimic behaviors. As one of my favorite country music artists sings, “If you’re going through hell, keep on going. Don’t slow down, if you’re scare, don’t show it. You might get out before the devil even knows you’re there.”
Yeah, good luck. Once the behaviors start, the irrational belief that using the disorder is preferable to facing things is hard to change. We all need to hit our rock bottom before we switch back into some form of a rational brain. Then we don’t try to run from the devil, we stand and face him.
In my eating disorder parlance, the devil is “Ed,” short for eating disorder. I give him a personality. I make my clients face him, deny him, fight him, and kick his ass. It takes a lot of work, but that’s how we learn that our anxiety, our shame and our fear, is irrational and keeps us stunted in our relationships, work, school, and future.
It’s my hope as a male who has recovered, as a clinician who specializes in helping men and boys with eating disorders and other mental health issues, and Vice President of the National Association for Males with Eating Disorders, that more men will not only face the fear of body image and self-esteem that so often drive their eating disorder, but also face the fear that seeking help means they are weak. You’re not.
Hey man, you have an eating disorder. You’re not alone. Get help. It’s okay. There is no shame.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C - Founder, Executive Director, Psychotherapist at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 443-602-6515 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.