Men and Eating Disorders
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Men and Eating Disorders

August 15, 2019


My name is Adam. I’ve done a
lot of things in my career, mainly all fashion related. And currently I’m a
fashion photographer. And I’ve suffered from anorexia. (UNSETTLING MUSIC) And I’m 38 now. I don’t think I’ve really recovered
from my eating disorder. It’s still something that
affects me greatly day-to-day. I think about the stereotype of
what an anorexic person is a lot because obviously, for me,
I’m not that stereotype. Definitely haven’t been cured
of an eating disorder. It’s just morphed itself
into something else… and depression. When it comes to, I guess,
sort of, choosing food or meals, it’s not something I really
wanna be a part of. I don’t like the idea of
cooking or of nice food. I don’t really think of it as food.
I just think of it as a task that I
need to do, and this is just an object. As soon as I start to think about it
too much, those thought patterns
will generally, sort of, spiral from there. Now being a dad, I want to be well.
I don’t want to feel depressed. I don’t want the people around me
to be affected any more. (GENTLE MUSIC) Having been through what I’ve been
through, it’s such a lonely and
awful place to be, that if even helping just one person
not feel like that, then that’s what
I wanna do. Being a dad, it’s changed;
it hasn’t necessarily got better. It’s put me in more of
a internal conflict. Do you wanna get me a bowl for you?
All right, Daddy.
Good boy. Because before, if I was depressed
or really struggling, it would make me feel as though I
didn’t want to be here, I didn’t
want to live. OK, we wanna take these? Do you want me to carry them or
are you all right carrying them? Having a young boy, it just
changes that completely. It’s just made me realise that
I just have to get better. Adam is incredibly hard on himself. He is so gifted. I often think that it’s probably
because he achieved so much so
quickly at such a young age that has kinda set him up to think
that anything he ever does is going— he’s gonna be the best in the
world at it within five minutes, and if he’s not, then he’s failed. So, we’re heading out to Manurewa,
in South Auckland, which is where
I grew up. I grew up out there with just
my mum and my younger brother. It was a real struggle for my mum to
make ends meet for us and, you know, I couldn’t be any more thankful to
her for a massive amount of work
and sacrifice that she made for us to be given the opportunities
that we were given. This one here. We moved out here after my parents
divorced, and my grandparents lived
in Manurewa. This meant that we were close by. Lots of times with no power or no
food and cold and house is very
damp. From when I was about maybe 9, I always had this butterflies in my
stomach and this really anxious
feeling. As time went on, as it would
get later and later and, you know, expect my mum home at
5, and it would be get to 5.30, 6, which, you know, was probably
just the traffic or whatever, I would just get more and more
anxious and more and more worried, and go inside and try to call her
and come back out and wait. Just needed to double-check that
everyone wasn’t escaping. My mum told me if I couldn’t sleep
to try and think of really great
things, and so every night, I would lie
there and think about being
a famous footballer and having a fancy car and
living in a mansion and, um, having— You know, even as a young
kid, I remember thinking, you know, I— you know, having a
wife and kids, you know. That just became all I wanted. I guess from a really young age,
I decided that I wanted to be a
professional footballer. And very quickly, it become to
look like it was gonna happen. Football was such a massive part
of my life growing up, and it was a way of escaping a lot
of realities of what was going on
in my life. (CROWD CHEERS FAINTLY) It was the first time I realised
that I have a personality that’s
quite obsessive and quite perfectionist and
quite incredibly driven. And I also could see results quite
clearly, so it would drive you even
further. By the time I was 15, I was living
in Middlesbrough playing for a
Premier League football club. First time I ever really experienced
coaches and adults treating me a bit
more like an adult. Special coaches and people who
played for the All Whites and offering to, kind of, sit down
with me and give me extra
training sessions. The one thing that people keep,
kinda, harping on to me was, like, you just had to be
really, really fit and strong. I really started to
just hone in on that and used to go for runs as much as I
could and exercise outside the house
when it was dark. I would just become quite
obsessive about that, and I started to be a little bit
more wary about what I ate. You know, very quickly
it all came to an end. I had started to get sore
hips and back quite often. No one could really figure out what
was going on, but progressively,
it just got worse and worse. Then I couldn’t go back to
Middlesbrough cos I just
couldn’t play. I just knew I couldn’t do it. The end of my football career was
something that I couldn’t control. But the one thing I learnt during
that time was that there were things
you could control in your life, and I guess, very obviously, I was
able to control what I ate and how
much I exercised. But the only other thing that I
really hadn’t… this identity
around was this, like, love of fashion
and creativity and art. (INTRIGUING MUSIC) Great. That’s great. (BASSY MUSIC) Just bend your elbow a little
more so you’re more like— Yeah, yeah, that’s it. That’s it. I think that there are links
potentially between the fashion
industry and media with regards to unhealthy diets or
fad diets or anything like that. (CHUCKLES) Yeah, that looks good.
Yeah, pretty good. But I personally don’t really
see any connection between the fashion industry and
eating disorders as such
as a mental health issue. Yeah, it’s good.
I look so pretty. Pretty when the light
comes through, eh, as well.
Yeah, I was just thinking that, eh. I think when it comes through—
If we see it come through, I’ll get in closer
and do a little…
Yeah, OK. From my experience, eating disorders
come from a much deeper place than wanting to lose weight or
wanting to look a certain way. Bring the exposure down a little. I think that an eating disorder
comes from a place of
mental unwellness, and in a lot of cases,
it’s based around a want for more control or a lack of control. I moved to London when
I need a part-time job. There was this amazing store called
Browns that everyone knew about
New Zealand. It was, like, this is
amazing that place, and they sell all the cool stuff. I just walked in and asked
to speak to the manager, and, you know, he just looked me up
and down and thought I looked cool
and said, ‘You can have a job.’ Whilst this was happening,
that ability to restrict food, you would get a lot of positive
reinforcement from the way you
lost or how thin you were. (SHUTTER CLICKS) And then anorexia just took over
everything, really. At my worst,
I was probably about 20. I weighed around 50… 56kg. I’m 6’3″. I guess, your brain just doesn’t
really function in the way that
it should, and physically you have no energy… to be able to— for your brain to
function, but even for your legs
to work. I physically… I couldn’t walk. I, you know, couldn’t do my job. And I’d always make sure my
lunchtimes were not with my friends
or the people that I worked with so that they didn’t know that I
wasn’t eating, but I’d just go
out there and I’d be really looking forward
to the glass of water. And I’d just sit there by myself,
and I would convince myself that
that was just like a really,… like, really good reward for
getting through to midday. I couldn’t work, so I couldn’t
afford the flat that we were in,
so I moved into a little hostel. I’d go to the supermarket
and get, like, one bread roll. And then I’d come home. I’d chop
the bread roll up into three. And I’d have the first third for
breakfast. I was so depressed and so down. I needed to just go home. My mum and I don’t really talk
a lot about this kinda stuff. I’d love to kinda be able to ask her
a little bit about what her
perceptions were when I was going through
the bad times. Enter.
Hi.
Hey. Hi.
Come on through. It’s hugely important for me to make
my mum know that she’s in no way
responsible with anything that’s happened,
whether it be eating disorders
or depression. Food’s just on the table.
Look at the food. Awesome.
Amazing.
(CHUCKLES) Thank you, Bronwyne. How she raised me and my brother and
what she went through to do, so I’m
such a massive fan of what she did, and I owe her so much for that. When he went over, he was really
happy. Things seemed to be going really
well when he was there. Then all of a sudden it was like,
‘I’m coming home next week.’ It’s like— That’s when—
When he arrived home, it wasn’t the same person
who went over. What were your thoughts and your
thinking around like when you first
noticed that I wasn’t very well? When you were playing lots of soccer
and almost semi-professional, as things like the obsession
and what you were to eat, because you would only have grilled
chicken or grilled fish with rice,
and that was every day. And that was really unusual
for us to do that. At what age? Probably late 20s— Late teens.
Teens. After I’d been playing in England,
and when I came back.
Yeah, yeah. And when I was trying to, like— When
my back wasn’t good and I was trying
to play again, and I was playing for like— like in
the national league clubs here, and
I was trying to— I guess it was around that time. It all just crept up, like it wasn’t
obvious about what was going on, and because it was linked a lot
to events and other things, you know, it was very easy for me
to think, ‘Well, it was related to
that,’ rather than something else. I’m very quiet. I’m quite reserved,
so someone else being quiet and
reserved didn’t, sort of, trigger to me…
Yeah.
…that there was something wrong. I’m also an optimist, so I, you
know, for a long time did the, ‘It will get better. It will get
better. It will get better.’
Of course. And of course, it doesn’t.
Hmm. But also, even now, it’s still—
I don’t know what you can— what
I can do to fix it. And that’s probably the big thing
that worries me the most. The unfortunate thing for Ange and
my mum is that— Because they don’t
talk about this stuff daily, they both probably don’t see things
coming and they’re getting worse, and then all of a sudden I go to—
They’re the only two I ever go to
when it’s really bad. It’s really unfortunate that the
people— The only two people that
I really trust are the people that I end up, like,
hurting the most by this stuff. So, yeah, I have a partner
who’s very unwell mentally. He, you know, has challenges that
may be with us all our lives. But there’s much more good. Mealtimes at our house means that
I cook, cos Adam doesn’t cook. If it were up to me, I’d have,
like, fish and salad or— you know,
I’m really not a food person, but because of the boys, I end up
cooking great big pastas and rice
dishes and lasagnes and that kind of thing, roast
chicken and… over and over again. So, please, please just
don’t watch closely. The thing I struggle with most is
that he doesn’t eat particularly
healthily. I think it affects his mood
and all sorts of things, but I feel like I could never say,
‘Hey, maybe don’t eat that,’ or
‘Maybe… Maybe try something else,’ because I know that in his mind, he
will turn that into a weight thing. What are we having for
dinner tonight, babe? Now we’re just having veggies
and some chicken with some turmeric and some other random things that
I threw in there and some rice.
Or perhaps some satay sauce as well. But, hey, it’s called
a Wednesday surprise.
(CHUCKLES) My eating patterns have changed
during that time that I’ve been
with Ange. A couple of years into our
relationship, I started to
develop this way of coping where I found it easy just to not
think about any decisions around
food. Basically, it’s like whenever it
comes to thinking, ‘Oh, I have to
eat something,’ like, I’m hungry, I have to eat
something, I just go, ‘Well, I just
wanna eat the thing that—’ That you like. That you enjoy.
That I like. Because as soon as I—
As soon as I think to myself, ‘Well, I should eat something more
healthy,’ then as soon as that
even enters my head, the whole thing completely spirals.
So I just choose not to have that
inner dialogue. My only way of dealing with it right
now is to avoid it, basic. Avoid that internal conversation.
Yeah. Cos I don’t think… I’ve never… I don’t think I’ve
ever really dealt with the issue,
whatever that may be. I think, um… Angry. I moved back because I thought that
I’d got somewhere really big,
I could go home now and relax. Then I picked up a camera and
had to start all over again. It was like, ‘Oh, shit, now I have
to, like— Now I have to get
somewhere big with this.’ So I was like, ‘Oh, shit, we have to
do this whole thing all over again.’ Um, OK, go like this. Frustrated. Just really try and imagine that
you are really like— I dunno,
with uni or something, work. You’re really frustrated. Yeah, that’s great.
Really not sure what to do. Yep. Great, great. Having anorexia was really bad, but
then also over the last 10,
15 years, I’ve had depression, like,
really, really badly, and that becomes, like,
a massive part of who you are. Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. Changes what you do in life. Changes
how you act. Changes your career.
Changes everything. Sad. I’m still pretty, like, obsessive
when it comes to work, but I’m not like obsessed with
becoming the biggest, best thing
you’ve ever seen. I’m really interested to
speak to Dr Cynthia. One of my main concerns is
the welfare of my son, Axel, and whether he has any
predisposition to eating disorders
or any other mental illness. (SKYPE DIAL TONE) Hi, Cynthia. I’m Adam.
Hi, Adam. Nice to meet you. You too. You too.
Thanks for taking the time.
My pleasure. I’m really interested in the studies
that you’ve been doing. Obviously, you know, having suffered
from anorexia, and I have a lot of
problems with depression… Mm-hm.
…and anxiety.
Yep. Um, and obviously hearing about your
study. That’s really interesting to me. Cos I think it’s one thing for
yourself to go through something, but the fear of your, um,
child going through that, and it is just… I— You know, it’s so awful, so the
idea of someone so close to me having to endure any part of that is
just… I can’t think of anything
worse, you know. And my partner and I are already
starting to feel a little bit,
almost, over— overcautious whenever we see signs
of anything, which could and probably are just normal
3-year-old behaviour. Let’s go down that path a little bit
right now, because it is such an
important one, and that question is one that I hear
all the time, so basically we’ve
known for a long time that anorexia runs in families. That doesn’t mean it always runs in
families, so you do have sporadic
cases that just pop up in a family—
They just pop up?
Yeah, and you don’t know. But we also don’t necessarily know
if all of our relatives didn’t have
anorexia. Parents who have been through
this are really vigilant. You know, they’re looking for all
the signs. Things that might be
normal, you know, their— Your antenna are just
a little bit more tuned in to
what these things are, and we actually don’t have
guidebooks for this.
Of course. You know, the parenting
books don’t tell you,…
(CHUCKLES) No. …you know, what’s normal and how
to tell a fad from something that’s
gonna be lifelong, so— and, you know, what I tell
people all the time is the most
important thing is to have a really good
relationship with your GP.
Oh yep. Make sure that person knows the
story and knows the history. If you start seeing your child, you
know, falling off the growth curve. You know, you wanna make sure that
your child is continuing to track.
In a steady kinda fashion, yeah. Yeah, steady fashion, and if
it starts deviating down or
something like that, have a talk with your GP, get
it evaluated, and people are
hesitant sometimes to bring a child in for a good
psychological evaluation, but
at the same time, don’t wait. Getting a professional to cast his
or her eye on the child and say,
‘Hey, I think you’re OK here,’ but then at least there’s a base
line. We published one study, where we actually have identified
the first gene that plays a role
in anorexia. Now, this is one in what will
probably be hundreds…
Sure. …and maybe even the thousands.
Right. I think that’s really
important to understand.
Yep. Anorexia is a complex tree.
Yep. It’s not just genetic, so anorexia,
for example, is about 50 to 60%
heritable, which means that 50 to 60% of the
liability is due to genetic factors. The rest is due to
environmental factors. Interestingly,
depression is the same.
Oh, that is interesting. But now we’re really drilling down
so that we can identify the actual
genes that might be shared between the two illnesses.
Yeah. And every time we identify another
gene, we get closer to understanding
the biology of the illness. We have— Not a single medication
in the world works for anorexia
nervosa. And part of that is because it’s
been really under-researched. Eating disorders has been
stigmatised and, you know,
pushed to the side, and, really, honest to God,
it’s been misunderstood. Now, what you’re saying is that the
anorexia has sorta been pushed down?
Yeah, yeah. But the depression and the anxiety
have surfaced at this point?
Yep. What’s really interesting about it —
often the anxiety comes before the
anorexia. Most people, you know, people who
aren’t prone to anorexia nervosa, when they starve or when they skip
meals or restrict their food intake, they tend to get more anxious
and irritable, and they feel
uncomfortable and scratchy and headachy.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But what we hear from people who are
predisposed to anorexia nervosa is sometimes restricting their food
intake actually calms them a little
bit. Right, right, right. So—
It’s— Yeah, so it’s sort of a way that
people stumble upon. You know,
if they skip a meal or if they go on a diet or just
reduce their food intake, and
the sensation is sorta like, ‘Wow, this is really weird. This
kinda makes me feel better if I
don’t eat as much.’ Does that ring any bells
with you, Adam? To cut a long story short, yes, but
I think that for me— for me, I’m not
even sure if I was aware that that’s what was happening
until now you’ve said it. Yeah, I kinda just thought that
I was— I had anxiety or I was
an anxious person,… Mm-hm.
…and then that kinda went away, and then was replaced by anorexia.
Right. Yep. But in hindsight, what you’re
saying is that it’s just become
a, sort of, um, a way of dealing with the anxiety
or making anxiety go away to some
extent. Right.
Or masking it.
Right, or managing it. You know, in some ways, whatever
it was that made you discover that
restricting made you feel better, that’s the hook.
You know, for me being
38 years old and… I just— You know, if anything that
you’ve suffered from for a long
period of time, and over 20 years or longer,
however you can look at it, is something that you eventually
reach a point where you just don’t
wanna have to deal with it any more. And you’re willing to just do
whatever it takes to try and
make it better. I wish that there were better things
in place. I wish that there were
better ways to manage these things, but I also understand that they’re
not simple things to deal with,
and, um… Oh, well, yes and no. I mean—
They are tricky. I think the trick is, you know, and
I’m gonna help you with this,
you know. We just need to get you a— It’s—
You’re kinda crazy. You’re talking
to North Carolina to get yourself a referral
in New Zealand, right?
(CHUCKLES) But at the same time, you know, I’m
a huge believer in, you know,
medication and therapy. And, you know, you get some— There’s
some really wonderful treatments for
depression now. Right.
You know, and doing
both at the same time, I think that’s the kinda extra boost
that you need in order to, sort of,
kick it up— kick it up a notch and get yourself well, because
you were talking about, you know, having a son now and everything,
and you know, you’ve got a family, and— you know, and you’re worried
about his future as well. The studies around the genetic
predisposition is, um… It was really interesting, cos
obviously, it gives me a better
idea of how to go about working with Axel on any
potential issues. And then the other thing I think
that was really interesting was
just the… Just the huge percentage
that shows that… eating disorders and depression
are so clearly linked. And whereas, um… It just makes you feel like
you’re not the only one, because there’s obviously… you know, so many
other people that… It’s been proven now that they’re
going through exactly the same thing
in exactly the same way. One of the hardest things to deal
with is the idea that you are very
much in these things alone. The people who care about you a lot,
they’re working so hard, so
intelligent, with resources behind them, trying
to find solutions and trying to
find, um… just ways to communicate to the
world how these things could be
solved. It’s the best feeling
you can haven, really. In the good times, I think I would
do anything for us to be this happy and for things to be this great
all the time, you know, and I’m kind of reminded in those
moments— I’m reminded of what it
can and could be, and I think— Oh, I’m prepared to
fight till the death for this,
you know, for him and I and Axel and the boys and everyone
to live happily ever after. In the bad times, I still love him. Totally. Absolutely. (BOTH SHOUT) Today I’m feeling really positive
about the future and feeling like there’s pathway to take
to get better. I wanna get better for, you know,
not just myself, but for everyone
around me. Ready?
Yeah.
Watch out. I don’t want for anything more than
to get better one way or another,
yeah. Attitude was made with funding
from New Zealand on Air.

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  1. This man is my ED doppelgΓ€nger. Every explanation he gives for what goes through his mind, his triggers, his massively larger worry for his child than for himself… boom. Twins. πŸ’πŸ½β€β™€οΈ Even that we no longer look the stereotypical part. It's still very much there and distraction distraction distraction. He's got OCD and depression, anxiety -same. All of my diagnoses fall perfectly under ASD and the first question that ran through my mind was, "Is he autistic and doesn't know it?". Spidey senses are ablaze.

  2. A lot of people with ocd, depression, eating disorder's have unique thought patterns which have similarities (perfectionism, creativity, low self esteem, control). Many of these people can achieve a lot in a short period of time but are also likely to quit, withdraw. Interesting…

  3. I had a big problem for years with my eating disorder and anxiety caused by feeling the pressure to look like the guys on magazine covers. I found this resource that create communities to help people with these problems. Check them out, it really helped me https://bit.ly/2mHNirD

  4. Hi, just wanted to share a very helpful article with good advice on eating disorders πŸ™‚ hope it can help!
    https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/g200610/Do-I-Have-an-Eating-Disorder/#?insight[search_id]=abeb48ff-0e28-4f57-9c91-a7f296e2e308&insight[search_result_index]=2

  5. Such a shame there is still such a stigma attached to MEN having eating disorders! Thank you for this upload! Now, perhaps, more men will share their stories and inspire others to do the same. πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

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