-- Trigger warning. For people who affected by eating disorders or other mentally fragile conditions; scrolling through this post might revive your own, painful, memories, so please consider this before reading it. --

Hi Reddit! So together with the amazing photographer Mafalda Rakoš (Austrian, 27) I, Ruben de Theije (Dutch, 24), have worked the last 2 years in our free time co-initiating a project about men with eating disorders. Eventually we ended up interviewing and portraying 11 men from Austria, Germany and the Netherlands who were bravely willing to open up about their current or former struggles with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder or OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder). Their stories are collected in a book, A Story to Tell, and in exhibtions throughout Europe.

- Some articles about it. German book review , GUP Magazine - English , Burn Magazine - English , Volkskrant - Dutch , RTL Nieuws - Dutch , AD - Dutch .

- About the exhibitions: Dutch Photomuseum - Rotterdam - English , RTL Nord - Hamburg - German , Athens Photo Festival - English.

- Proof post

- More info: our website

This is by the way the second time I post this, but the last one rightfully got deleted after 5 minutes a couple of days ago (I didn't follow the guidelines for providing the proof, sorry my bad). So this is the second try!

Since it's quite a hidden topic I'd like to show Reddit that these issues exist. This is also the reason we started this project. Beforehand, as a small disclaimer: I'm not a psychologist nor mental health professional in general, so some questions about personal situations I will not answer, due to the fact that professionals can provide better help for this. But what I can do is share our findings and summarize the experiences of the protagonists (of which some of them now work as mental health professionals, helping others with recovering from eating disorder). In general, to just give a better understanding about this topic! Which is definitely necessary.

So shoot: AMA about the project, topic or just life!

EDIT 1: Guys, sorry but after a long day it's sleeping time! Tomorrow I'll wake up a bit earlier to answer some of your questions still, so you can definitely still send them in. I will try to answer as many as possible. Thanks for your interest, question and all the kind words. I didn't expect it to have so many comments and upvotes, so that's really amazing! Have a nice day/night all and take care!

EDIT 2: Thank your for all your questions, I did answer some of them quickly this morning. If you're interested in ordering our book, you can do it on our website! Unfortunately I'm not able to answer all of the questions, because I have a busy schedule coming up. But if you suffer with personal issues or are worried about people in your environment, please reach out to a professional. They will listen, help and ease the pressure from you. You are not alone in this. Thanks for sharing questions, experiences and kind words. I'm glad the post did what it was meant for! Take care.

Comments: 128 • Responses: 30  • Date: 

GovtCheese196 karma

Guy here. I was anorexic in high school. Never got any support for it, and have never really heard of this being an issue whatsoever for males. Thanks for writing this and bringing more attention to the idea that both genders suffer from eating disorders.

MenEatingDisorders24 karma

Wauw thank you, that's the main aim. Hopefully you're doing better now?

koosobie64 karma

Do you think Men are discouraged to think of their disorder as a disorder?

Do you think they receive equal quality of care as contrasted by women with eating disorders?

MenEatingDisorders75 karma

Yes, the protagonists often told that they had nobody to relate to or didn't acknowledge it in the first place because of the stigma 'an eating disorder is for girls' and at the treatment centres they only saw women. This created a lot of shame too, which of course doesn't help in a process where it is important to learn to talk about about your emotions.

Your last question is a bit broad for me, but most of the doctors or mental health professionals did treat them equally, apart from some exceptions.

koosobie20 karma

Yes, the protagonists often told that they had nobody to relate to or didn't acknowledge it in the first place because of the stigma 'an eating disorder is for girls' and at the treatment centres they only saw women. This created a lot of shame too, which of course doesn't help in a process where it is important to learn to talk about about your emotions.

Was this from their family/friends or physicians? It would also help in answering that secondary broad follow up.

MenEatingDisorders23 karma

Friends and family! Apart from some exceptions, in most of the cases the physicians did make the diagnosis quickly, luckily.

koosobie8 karma

Thank you.

What do you feel was the most compelling or repetitive reason men fell into the habit of these eating disorders?

MenEatingDisorders20 karma

Thank you for you questions! :) There are numerous reasons that they've mentioned in the interviews, but to pinpoint the most important ones: almost all of them struggled with the image society has of masculanity. In their eyes society expected them to be 'strong, muscular, without displaying too much emotions'. This in combination with them never having learned to express their emotions, created the eating disorder as a coping mechanism to deal with all this pent-up feelings.

Azrieth7321 karma

Have you noticed any similarities to what triggers eating disorders? Like, is an action or event more likely to trigger an over-eating disorder rather than an under-eating one?

MenEatingDisorders42 karma

So this is about the triggers, not the underlying problems: I would say that the trigger for almost all the protagonists with anorexia in our project was wanting to be very muscular, like male bodies they saw on commercials, on social media, while the protagonist with binge eating disorder in our project actually wanted to look ‘unattractive’, because he didn’t feel comfortable with his body shapes and the associations with it (he was physically born as a girl).

ButActuallyNot7 karma

People want to be big and masculine but... Persue it through anorexia? I don't see the logic.

MenEatingDisorders47 karma

Yes, understandable reaction. That's also what I asked them in the beginning of this project. The thing is that the protagonists often extensively sported, but on top of that their anxiety to gain weight overpowered the rational voice to eat a healthy amount of food. So slowly they continuously started to eat less and less, while this anxiety, focus and compulsion grew stronger and stronger.

BoldEagle8927 karma

restricting and controlling your body and diet are strategies that people use to feel in control of their lives. it can snowball.

it's like anything else addictive and compulsive; no one sets out to be a morning drinker when they start having a whiskey at 3pm to steady their nerves before a meeting. no one who starts taking Adderall to finish their homework intends to wind up smoking meth at 3am on a weeknight. That would be... illogical!

if you don't have a background with or understanding of addiction, compulsion, and disordered eating I get that it can be tempting to try to understand it through a logical framework. There isn't a logical thought process to explain it from a perspective of health and wellness and desired outcomes, but there's a pretty tight internal logic to how certain behaviors can help stave off feelings that one does not have the tools to deal with while at the same time engendering more "positive" feelings of progress and control.

I don't think you were setting out to be mean, but as someone who has dealt with substance abuse and eating disorders, I felt a little trigger when I read your comment. Addicts and disordered eaters are not stupid; we are not illogical people with poor problem solving skills- I don't think you really meant to imply that, but that's sort of the message that "golly that doesn't make sense! how could they think that would help them?" sends. I can't speak about my experience in that context. It's not really a comment made in good faith.

If you're curious about the internal economies of people who have different kinds of problems than you, I would just ask that you think a little bit more deliberate about the language you're using. The tone of your comment was "god that makes no sense," and I would feel a lot more comfortable generally responding to something that felt a bit more "I don't understand that." I would love to help people understand addiction and compulsion more, but I don't want to start that conversation from a place that presumes some myopic stupidity on my part. If you don't understand, say you don't understand. Don't impugn the intelligence of a group of people with careless language.

tfwnoqtscenegf6 karma

This response is perfect. It really captures my experience/reaction to it too. I don't relate exactly to the triggers OP identified but the thing is for me atleast there wasn't one cogent idea that drove it. I could come up with reasons and analysis now about why I developed mental illnesses, but in the moment there wasn't triggers or it didn't feel like it/I wasn't able to identify them. I wasn't thinking "oh wow starving myself is great it will give me the ideal life I want this is awesome!" No one thinks avoiding their problems will actually solve them but yet everyone has probably procrastinated at one point or another. It's like that to an extreme degree maybe. Idk you worded it much better than me.

MenEatingDisorders5 karma

Just wanted to state that I totally agree with both of your comments, BoldEagle89 and Tfwnoqtscenegf (great username, btw). Even though the reaction of the commenter should have been more subtle, I do get this question a lot from people, that’s why I still wanted to explain it.

As a sidenote, to clarify the thing I stated about ‘the anxiety being stronger than the rational voice’: correct, it was also something the protagonists realized after they were treated. Eventually I meant with the trigger ‘the reason they convinced themselves to start sporting and eating less in the moment’, while indeed subconsciously there were other topics going on, which are way more relevant and which we also focused on mainly in the book.

As BoldEagle89 stated, these subconscious kind of coping mechanisms are indeed something which is very common in human behavior (just even look at smoking cigarettes) – so, both, definitely thanks for adding these comments!

LifeLongSDR14 karma

Is anorexia always that extreme skeletal body type though?

I imagine that’s an extreme representation that is not accurate of most anorexic peoples physiques. Rather they probably want to be “shredded” and have the aesthetic abs, jawline, built up shoulders etc.

MenEatingDisorders33 karma

You are absolutely right, it is definitely not! We should rather define anorexia by the behaviors and thinking-patterns, rather than the BMI or effects on body. You can have anorexia and still have a healthy BMI, while the eating disorder does influence your life immensely. It’s mostly about thinking about restraining patterns obsessively, having an intense fear to gain weight, using it for ‘control’, using it as a coping mechanism for underlying problems and this often occupied the protagonists everyday life drastically. These kind of patterns are way more important to focus on by defining anorexia.

carinaeta21 karma

How did you reconcile and balance wanting to tell this story visually with the fact that visuals of eating disorder sufferers (or of things associated with eating disorders) can be triggering or damaging?

I was only able to take a quick glance at your website and one of the articles, but I'm excited to read more. Thank you for thoughtfully and sensitively bringing stories of men's EDs to a wider audience.

MenEatingDisorders28 karma

Good question. We took some measures for that. Just as this post, the first page of the book consists of a trigger warning. Mafalda also display this trigger warning in exhibitions. We also do not display any BMI and weight numbers in the book, since this can trigger others to also wanting to achieve this number. However, after a lot of discussing, we did make some choices to show three photo’s of very thin bodies of the the protagonists in the book. Because we did also want to show how serious eating disorders can be and how serious we should take these issues as a society.

tfwnoqtscenegf25 karma

As a male anorexic I'm glad you showed thin bodies. In eating disorder treatment in the US it is heavily focused on women (the materials in inpatient and residential would even say "she" when talking about someone with an eating disorder for example) and I only ever met a few other guys out of hundreds of other patients. However I was the only anorexic male in any of the treatment centers I went to (a lot). The other men were either bulimic or had binge eating disorder. I was the only one who was "scary skinny" or even underweight. While I agree with your other post that talks about focusing on the mental aspects of eating disorders and such rather than weight, being at a very low bmi from anorexia is a unique experience as a man from men with other eating disorders. The way we are seen by others and ourselves is different. I'm not saying other disorders aren't serious or unique, they are, but it feels like anorexia as a male is the most underrepresented/marginalized out of a category of mental illnesses that are similarly on the periphery (male eating disorders). It would have really pissed me off if you decided not to include it actually. I doubt many will see it and be triggered especially after the trigger warning. Also it would add to this feeling of being invisible/alone. I agree with your conceptualization of anorexia not being dependant on being underweight (although I would say it's indicative of disordered eating and not anorexia but both are serious and should be treated) I wouldn't relate to it at all if it were just men that are normal or high bmi. It would perpetuate feels of the exact opposite of your intentions in me. I would feel even more invisible, even less valid as "male" (not that I love traditional masculinity or societal expectations of men anyway but that's a different discussion). Long winded response but just wanted to say I agree wholeheartedly with your decision as an anorexic male, for what it's worth

MenEatingDisorders8 karma

It's worth a lot actually, thanks. And I definitely understand the feelings it would cause for you of being more invisible. Thanks for the comment!

Agromahdi12312 karma

i think i have a male eating disorder but nobody takes me seriously. How can i change this? how do i know? i seem to like to starve myself for days at a time sometimes.

MenEatingDisorders6 karma

Have you thought about going to a physician or other mental health professional to talk about this? What I can say is that we often saw that an acknowledgement from a professional also raises awareness and understanding at friends and family, plus a physician e.g. can help in general in this process.

improvised-scholar10 karma

Have you studied pica/eating non-edibles such as dirt, paper etc?

its not based on the amount eaten but its also an eating disorder.

MenEatingDisorders6 karma

pica/eating non-edibles such as dirt, paper

I have not actually! Ar you very familiar with this topic?

-MOTHBLOOD-9 karma

What kind of food addictions are there? And how do I know if I have one?

MenEatingDisorders15 karma

Disorders related to food comes in so many patterns, that I’m kind of afraid I’ll oversee certain disorders in answering this question. The once we focused on in the book were the ones noted by the diagnoses of the protagonists, which were binge eating disorder, bulimia, anorexia and OSFED. You can look up the exact terminology of these ones in the DSM-5, which is the most widely known guideline for professionals, and which we also used. But if you doubt that you have a distorted relationship with (certain) food, I’ll strongly recommend you to seek professional help. Even though it might not be classified as an eating disorder and it might have been unnecessary eventually, they can still help you and make an exact estimate of what is happening.

Bliepskiblapski7 karma

How did you go about finding interviewees?

MenEatingDisorders13 karma

One of them is one of my best friends actually. The others we found via approaching NGO's, mental health organisation, treatment centre and also via reaching out to friends, who knew people, etc.

DotKomma12 karma

You probably saw it already, but perhaps this is something others might find interesting: the BBC recently aired Freddie Flintoff: Living With Bulimia. Flintoff is a former cricketer and current Top Gear presenter and has lived with bulimia for 20 years now.

Good luck with your book!

MenEatingDisorders5 karma

Thank you! I only saw the trailer, but will definitely check out the documentary soon. In the UK there seems to be already quite a lot attention for this problem in general, great to see.

DotKomma7 karma

I saw the whole documentary and it was Flintoff talking to other men with eating disorders and a number of professionals. No sensationalist bullshit and no hero worship of Flintoff, just a sympathetic portrayal of several people with eating disorders including Flintoff, and an explaination how these disorders develop and the role of stigma.

MenEatingDisorders1 karma

That sounds awesome. When reporting about eating disorders in general, here in the Netherlands the mainstream media tend to focus a lot only on aspects like food/sport/thin bodies/influence of social media, because that's the first things coming to mind when thinking about eating disorders I guess. But it's quite a superficial approach in my opinion, so I'm glad the BBC did his job right.

Brojangles12347 karma

Just saw this thread in a passing glance so I haven’t gotten to take a look too much at what you’ve posted but, as a (m) bodybuilder myself, the sport is rampant with eating disorders and most BBers who I know or have talked with are usually super happy to chat about their issues in this regard since it’s so readily normalized in the sport it isn’t super taboo.

MenEatingDisorders9 karma

It’s good to read that it’s not a taboo, but ‘normalized’ is also quite troubling. We didn't really focus on this group in this project. Are there any institutions in your surrounding who help the bodybuilders with dealing with these issues?

thegenuinedarkfly7 karma

Was there any data collected on younger boys and preteens or were you strictly focused on adult males?

MenEatingDisorders6 karma

The data we found the most reliable, which we stated in the book to give a picture of the global situation is this systematic literature review, which compiles (for the data about men) 33 different studies worldwide. Unfortunately, it is subject to statistical deviations, also because in general researchers still struggle with reaching this group. For instance, most of the sample sizes were quite small or focussed only on one country, that’s why in general we didn’t present much data in the book. The portrays, Mafalda's photo's and texts of the men telling their story are really central in the book.

Anyway, in this review they unfortanetely didn’t make a difference in age particularly on gender. What I can say though is that puberty is often a huge factor in developing an eating disorder. Because it’s a period in which a lot of things change on someone’s body as well as in the environment. So most of the protagonists did developed it in their puberty too, some even as kids.

aslfingerspell6 karma

What is the hardest thing about this kind of research?

MenEatingDisorders3 karma

Even though they all were very motivated to tell their story for the bigger aim, you still really dive into somebody’s sensitive, personal story. Growing up, trauma’s, current situation, history and relationship with their social environment. It was sometimes quite hard to find a balance in what to describe, without potentially harming them or others. But I made sure they always kept in control of what they wanted to tell, and in the end they all approved their texts, without much adjustments!

SteveCo1473 karma

Hi, I was wondering if you considered studying eating disorders not related to body image, like ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder), or Orthorexia? I ask because I myself have ARFID.

MenEatingDisorders4 karma

Thanks for your question. I hope you’re doing okay and that you have the help you need in this process.

We did consider involving and finding more protagonists with different issues in this book. However, the truth is that this project was something we had to set up from scratch, without any budget, in our free time. I had another job full time and Mafalda was also doing other projects in the meantime, so unfortunately we had to narrow it down and only focus on these 4 eating disorders in the book, simply because we didn’t have the time to expand it. Would be happy to do it somewhere in the future though. Take care!

DkHamz1 karma

If you ever start this study and are interested in my case I’d love to help out in the future!

MenEatingDisorders2 karma

Thanks! Can you DM me your e-mail adress? I think it will definitely take over two years before I start something on a similar topic again, but always good to stay in contact, just in case!

coryrenton3 karma

What are the most bizarre eating habits you encountered that looked disordered on the surface but was actually fine?

MenEatingDisorders1 karma

We mostly asked about disordered food patterns, so there's not really something that pops to my mind.

MikeAlex012 karma

Where can we find this book? Also, was there at any point in the project where you felt a strong impact?

MenEatingDisorders2 karma

It's on our website! https://astorytotell.info/Shop .

About the strong impact: personally there were a lot of moments which really touched me, because it felt so familiar, even though I have never struggled with an eating disorder. A lot of the protagonists were my age (I was 22 when I started this project, now 24) or dealt with the eating disorder during my age. Their stories are 'coming of age'-stories, so it's somehow relatable.

In one of the interviews, the protagonist was still in the period of recovering from the eating disorder. He was really struggling to resist sporting and his restrictive food patterns. I asked him gently how he replaced dealing with his emotions and trauma’s currently, now that his coping mechanism was gone. And he answered with “honestly, I have no idea”. He described that he misses his eating disorder, because at least that felt as a safe space, as achieving certain goals. Which felt euphoric for him. Just the way he said it, it was difficult to see this internal struggle.

Luckily the last time I’ve spoken to him, he was doing better.

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Ethchappy6 karma

What do you think was the number 1 thing that was unique to the male experience of these disorders as opposed to female

MenEatingDisorders17 karma

I think the most worrying difference with their experience was that most of these men got diagnosed in a pretty late stage, because they and their environment recognized it later. This and also notably focussing a lot on sports, made their experiences and situations in general a bit extremer and darker. But of course, every situation of every person is different.

onlyforsex1 karma

What factors make a man more likely to have an eating disorder, and are they the same for women?

MenEatingDisorders2 karma

Factors which were dominant in their stories were not being able to identify with the image of masculanity, but still trying to reach this. So identity-issues in general, for instance finding out they were gay (even though we definitely have straight men in the project too) or just being more sensitive than other guys in general. Having unsafe environments, like being bullied as a kid, their parents being in a divorce or not being accepted in their environment or just trauma's in general in whatever form. This all creates a low self-esteem. And on top of that they never learned to share or express their emotions. So how do you start dealing with that? By creating a coping-mechanism, which is the eating disorder. It occupies your thoughts, your daily life, creates a 'safe space' and for short moments it makes you feel euphoric (for instance when you achieve a certain weight goal). While on the long term it is of course devastating.

Except for the masculanity-identity issue the factors with women are quite the same. This is also what experts in our project emphasized.

Kpenney1 karma

Do men and women usually share the same disorders or are they usually drastically different types or habits among their disorders?

Also I'm a man with a eating disorder, mine was spurred on by medication i took as a teenager that supressed it quite a bit. 32 now and just finding ways to properly maintain a healthy diet and not gorging on 2k+ of calories once a day :>

MenEatingDisorders2 karma

The data we found most relevant and we used in the book, comes from this review, which compiled data from 33 studies worldwide. I'm just copy-pasting from it:

Among the 33 selected studies, the weighted means of lifetime EDs were 8.4% for women and 2.2% for men. For AN, the weighted means (ranges) of lifetime prevalence were 1.4% (0.1–3.6%) for women and 0.2% (0–0.3%) for men. For BN, the weighted means (ranges) of lifetime prevalence were 1.9% (0.3–4.6%) for women and 0.6% (0.1–1.3%) for men. For BED, the weighted means (ranges) of lifetime prevalence were 2.8% (0.6–5.8%) for women and 1.0% (0.3–2.0%) for men. Finally, EDNOS weighted means (ranges) of lifetime prevalence were 4.3% (0.6–14.6%) for women and 3.6% (0.3–5.0%) for men.

I really hope you're getting the help you need! Not only on the food patterns, but also on the psychological aspect. This is where most of our protagonists had the most valuable treatment.

alrightpal1 karma

Is there a set standard for diagnosing an eating disorder? Truthfully I think I teeter into that area but I don’t know enough to confirm whether I do or don’t have one.

MenEatingDisorders2 karma

This is really something a doctor could help you with. He/she will ask you the right questions, so you can understand what really is going on. Even though it eventually might not be an eating disorder, at least you know then what is going on. From this point you can work further. Please take care!

sephluy1 karma

Do you think forcibly 'cleaning the plate' causes binge eating?

MenEatingDisorders2 karma

Interesting question. We did have three protagonists who developped anorexia on a very young age, as a kid. They said they started to notice that everytime they wouldn't eat their plate, they'd get attention from their parents - even though it'd be a negative reaction. In hindsight, they said that this was a way of asking for help. Sometimes food is the only way of communicating to their environment that there's something going on in their life, which they can't deal with/which they can't express. A scream for help. So I personally don't think 'only forcible cleaning the plate' would create an eating disorder, but it might give them a bit of a disordered relationship with food in general. I would have to do more research about that to be 100% sure though.

epi_glowworm0 karma

What's your thoughts on the color green?

MenEatingDisorders9 karma

My 2nd favourite colour. Purple is the best of course...