5WC

Stop anyone in the street and ask them for the first image that pops into their head when you say the word “Anorexia” and you can be pretty safe in a prediction that they will have mentally drawn the figure of an emaciated, skeletal girl in her mid to late teens.

And this is such a safe bet due to the media and the way they portray anorexia to the public conscious. Whenever any eating disorder is featured or connected to, it will always be in relation to girls. Whether it’s in our soap operas, size 0 models or the debate surrounding airbrushing and photo manipulation in glossy magazines. If you only ever listened to the media you would believe that, like pregnancy, eating disorders are exclusively the domain of the fairer sex.

But this is rubbish.

Male magazines airbrush their models just as much as any female counterpart, high profile politicians and sports men have admitted to eating disorders and one of the highest risk categories of job for anorexia – being a professional jockey – a male dominated sector.

The problem is, that as soon as you start talking about eating disorders and men, people don’t know how to react; how they should feel. Hear about a family whose daughter is struggling under its grasp and you’ll hear the word “sad” banded about. Repeat the exercise with their son and it’s “shocking”. Now I’m not a professional sportsman, I don’t pose for glossy magazines, and I cannot become pregnant. What I can do though is become anorexic. As with a lot of things in life, my path into disordered eating was born from the best of intentions. In fact, it grew out of an attempt to be healthy.

Quit Smoking

I used to smoke, I sadly had a 20 a day habit, which aside from the financial implications and frequent trips to my local 24 hour garage, meant that I was somewhat unfit. Smoking, partnered to being overweight, meant my outlook on life wasn’t overly bright. And so, through sheer bloody mindedness and internal will power, I gave up smoking. I gave up my 20 a day habit cold turkey. And with true arrogance I can honestly say it was so easy it was almost untrue. Now I must point out, that I personally feel that you cannot truly change, you cannot give something up, until you reach that point whereby you demand change. They always say that to quit smoking, you should just make the decision bin everything even if that means chucking away 90% of a packet of cigarettes. But for me, that never worked. I’d bin it all, a couple of hours of internal “fighting” later and the cravings would be so strong that I’d be scrambling round the bottom of the bin safe in the knowledge I could lay my hands on 18 cigarettes and a lighter.

For me, the only way I could quit was to use a “if you don’t have any, you don’t buy any, then you can’t smoke any” approach. I made a conscious decision that I would smoke till the end of the month, and when I finished that final pack, that was it, no more. As the days counted down, as the cross on the calendar loomed larger, my hatred from the little white “cancer sticks” as my brother called them grew stronger, until finally, I hit 1st March 2011 and that was it, I had no more, I was now smoke free.

That first week was strange, I was expecting it to be hell but instead it was easy. It was as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, my body didn’t crave nicotine, my body just felt normal. Week 2 arrived and life moved into the fast lane. I went hyper. I was bouncing off the walls, I was a hive of energy, but still no cravings and then week 3. Now they say it takes 3 weeks to break or create a habit, and this “final week” so-to-speak saw me go very quiet: I didn’t really sleep, I slowed right down and became rather withdrawn. But I didn’t care. I was still smoke free. Then week 4 came skipping along and I was “me” again; I was free. I had stopped thinking about cigarettes, I hadn’t had any cravings and the lows of the previous week had risen back to normal levels. Essentially, and simplistically, I had won.

Concept 2 Meters

However, as with everything, winning is only half the battle. I had decided that quitting smoking was only the first part of the master plan. If you start to “get healthy” you might as well carry it through and so, I decided to lose the weight and get fit as well. Initially I started to run but sadly, my knees didn’t like this and, remembering my school days and my love of rowing, I purchased an indoor rowing machine. Starting on a path that’d see me row nearly 5,000,000 meters of my spare bedroom!

But there was a problem: I was doing this exercise, I was feeling better but the weight wasn’t shifting, my body wasn’t changing. There were forums and articles proclaiming how rowing worked, toned and strengthened every muscle, it was the “full body work out”. Yet here I was, with massively improved cardiovascular strength but still the wrong side of “normal” on the scales. In my mind something didn’t add up. It was at this time that the app – MyFitnessPal – appeared in my life through a recommendation on twitter. I gave it a go, and soon realised my problem: a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. Suddenly it became apparent, all the rowing in the world meant nothing if you followed it up with fizzy drinks, chocolate bars and a couple of packets of my beloved Mini Animal biscuits; let alone 3 staple meals.

The app gave me a way to monitor this, it allowed to me keep the treats I enjoyed in my life but in acceptable levels. I could have the mini animal biscuits if I’d rowed enough, or if dinner was a bit calorific leave them in the cupboard and keep things balanced. And it worked, on paper. The numbers of the scales started to drop off, but even so, to me my body shape didn’t change; 11 stone, 10 stone, 9 stone down went the weight, but the man boobs, the flabby tummy, remained. I just had to stay strong and trust the rowing, trust the monitoring, trust that one day the puff of magician smoke would see the body I longed for appear. Life would improve by the simplistic power of the app and the black and white control it gave to me, and my life. The problem, I blindly believed, was I didn’t monitor with enough detail; and so, everything started to get counted. If I ate or drank it, I’d have weighed it first. Even the stupid impossible things like herbs in a bolognese had to be approved by the app first.

CGD - Skeletal - Anorxia

And then everything came to a head, everything went bang. I had taken smoking out of my life and simply replaced it’s negative effects on my body, with sadly, a stronger and more powerful form of self destruction. It’s not fun when, through blind ignorance and unrelenting self belief, you are effectively starving yourself into mental and physical extinction. I reached a point where my body virtually gave up; it said enough is enough. I needed help.

I think it’s a personality trait (that is almost a red flag risk factor warning) but I am very much single minded. Some may say I’m shy, or that I have avoidant personality disorder. That I dislike crowds, people, or that simply, I liked to do things by myself – on my own terms. After all, I had quit smoking, without help, and found it easy; I could quit an eating disorder on my own. I have will power, I have determination, how hard could it be? And so, I started to look around the internet, I started to look for advice and information. but the answers I found, the questions I asked, all lead to the same conclusion:

You cannot beat an eating disorder on your own. You need help.

My tale began in March 2011. I originally wrote this 3½ years later – still underweight, still struggling from time to time to fully give up the control Anorexia has in my life, but still fighting. 3½ years beyond that and I’m still here, still stuck, having good days and bad. Refusing to stop fighting, but struggling to accept the realities of a life without the control and dark friendship that anorexia has brought destructively to my life. Their will only one winner, my life is mine and only mine. Anorexia is horrendous, horrible and hellish. It’s not a choice and it’s not a diet, but it’s not an unwelcome friend you have to marry. Life doesn’t have to be shared with it.

I will recover and I will get my divorce. I’ve filed the paperwork, and while I’m still walking my own path away from anorexia, I promise, that for the rest of my life, I will support, talk and help anyone with or connected to an eating disorder if they need somewhere to turn. It’s why I brought the Beat balloon (wrong logo or not) because I want to show people that life doesn’t stop for anorexia. Life is there to be lived, experienced, enjoyed. At the start, I truly felt I could beat this on my own, there have even been times when I thought living as an anorexic seemed to make sense, but it was through the help and support of others, professional and personal, that my eyes were opened to the falsity and stupidity of my thinking. Charities like Beat & Men Get Eating Disorders Too are there to campaign and raise much needed funds while your GP and local CAMHS/AMHS teams provide front line support. Don’t delay getting the help to fight this. Anorexia is a lying, controlling, self obsessed, deluded idiot; believe me, I’ve been befriending it far too long now.

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