Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Men and Eating Disorders: It's Time to "Man Up!"

I'm sure that most guys would want to believe that women are the only ones with eating disorders (ED); however, those of you who have struggled with your weight over the years know, whether you publicly acknowledge it or not, that's not the case. And, hey, I'm no different.

Growing up in a household with a mother who was constantly going from one diet to the next really made an impression on my eating habits. I can remember that along with milk and OJ in the fridge, there would be cans of Tab and Diet Rite (which was the 1st diet soda in the states). Melba toast, cottage cheese, whey powder (from Amway), and tons of grapefruit were always on hand. Oh, and when the low-fat craze hit in the 80s, you better believe that my mom followed suit. I can remember all of the tasty soul food of my youth was ruined by this damn mania! How on earth can you eat fried cabbage seasoned with vegetable oil!

I never really thought that my mom's obsession with losing weight would eventually rear its ugly head in my life once I started to pack on the pounds; unfortunately, that's what happened. Sure, I remember my mom having a copy of the TWA Flight Attendants Diet on the refrigerator door for many years, but I would simply shake my head when I saw it because I thought, and still do, that cottage cheese wasn't meant for human consumption. :)

Nevertheless, I soon realized I didn't have a positive relationship with food when I was faced with losing the freshman 25 that I put on my first year of college. Losing weight, no matter how much you need to lose, is a daunting task at first because you realize that you are going to have to put in an effort that you're obviously not doing or you wouldn't be overweight, right?

So, when I was faced with having to lose weight for the first time in my life, what did I do? I tried to starve myself of course! I made up my mind that I would eat once a day and drink plenty of water. Oh, and I would start lifting weights with my roommates and playing tennis for cardio. As you can imagine, I lost the weight and more people started to notice me on campus, but this victory over the bulge was short lived. Sure, eating once a day was easy during the summer because I was a poor college student working on campus, and I wasn't on the meal plan. So, my "diet" was really easy to follow. As soon as the regular semester started, and my meal plan was reinstated, I regained all the lost weight.

After going up and down with my weight throughout my college years, I started to notice that I had developed a habit of dieting until I couldn't take it, and then I would binge. I have never purged, but my binges grew more severe as the years and pounds came on. One thing I always found interesting about my binges, especially as I got older, is that a pattern had developed.

First, I would be stressed about something going on in my life that I believed I had no control over. Then, I'd usually order delivery with enough food for 2-3 people. Almost immediately after paying the driver and closing the door, I would get this intense feeling of shame and disgust with myself. The more I saw all the food I had ordered, the more I hated myself. Finally, I would think to myself that the best way to rid myself of all these negative feelings is to eat it as quickly as I could. And, that's what I did until I could no longer shovel any more food in my mouth, or I was staring at an empty container. What's crazy about my pattern is that once I finished all, or the majority, of the food, I would feel a sense of relief?!? I would feel this way because I could now throw out the evidence of my binge and act as if it never happened ....

As a result of my night-time binging, all of my weight loss efforts were futile. It was a vicious cycle that I was in, and it was one that I had to break! And, fortunately, that's exactly what I did in 2002, which was the last year that I went on a binge. Now, does this mean that I simply walked away from it with no lasting side effects? Of course not! Just because I didn't actually binge, does not account for the numerous times I "mentally" binged when I was stressed. OK, some guys may think that this type of binging isn't that dangerous because you're not actually going through with the physical act, but I disagree.

When I would give into my midnight gorging sessions, I was obviously acting on urges and not allowing myself to think them through before acting on them. Similar to a child going with a stranger who has a pretty balloon or piece of candy, I binged with no more thought than "I'm stressed and I'm hungry .... no, I'm really hungry". All of the regret and shame came after the food actually arrived and soon went away once I hid the evidence. So, stopping this behavior was more about me becoming more conscious about my destructive behavior and changing it. It really is that simple, but that's why I say that the "mental binges" are worse.

They are worse because they mean that you have not quieted that voice of doubt in the back of your head. Fellas, you know the voice I'm talking about. No? Sure you do. It's that little voice that tells you that "You'll never lose weight!"; it's the voice that says "I don't care how hard you try that program won't work for you FAT BOY!" or "Everyone in your family is fat, so what makes you special?". Depending on how much weight you need to lose or how long you've been overweight, this voice can be as quiet as an occasional whisper (which I still hear) to a patronizing proclamation of your weight loss failure!

Having "mental binges" means that you are not fully confident that you can really lose weight and keep it off this time. In addition to nutrition and physical training, you must address this voice guys; don't ignore it or act as if it's not there. Oh, it's there and it's not going anywhere as long as you ignore or try to run away from it. One thing I can honestly say is that you have to face the voice! Today, may not be the day, but there will come a day that you are going to have to simply "Man Up!" and face that voice and listen to all the negative, sarcastic, and patronizing things it has to say. Soak it ALL up and don't turn away when it gets a bit more than you think you can handle. Stay there, don't shy away because you've done that before.

After taking all that abuse, don't make excuses or even feel remorse for what was said. Remember it and USE IT for motivation because I have a little secret for you guys. The more goals you set and achieve, the less you can hear that voice in the back of your head. Listen, if you need to lose 100 lbs., I can guarantee that the voice you hear now, won't be as noticeable when you lose 75 of that 100 lbs.

Unlike boxing and MMA where they tell you to kill the body and the head will die, in weight loss and management you must control the head (your brain that is) and the body will follow. Mentally come to grip with your ED and start mapping out strategies to deal with it, and ultimately "Man Up"!

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Update: Please take a few seconds to answer the poll I've posted about this entry--thanks!

17 comments:

Tara said...

Great post!

Mr. LowBodyFat said...

Thanks Tara ...

Matt said...

Wow. I relate to so much of this that it is scary. My binges were the exact same. Ordering a pizza/Chinese food/take-out, eating it all, and disposing of the evidence before anyone else got home. Going to get absurd amounts of ice cream and eating it in my car. And all the while feeling horrible about it. Knowing I was giving in. But controlling the urge to binge is easier now-a-days. I track my workout progress and body composition, always search out things to provide motivation (such as this blog!), etc.

But you're right, the "mental binges" are the worse. I consider myself a very positive person...but the voice in my head doesn't like to agree when it comes to my diet. Like you say...it's not going anywhere. It's all about fighting it and realizing you have the ability to fulfill your goals.

Thank you for posting your story. I always thought I was on my own with issues like this. To see someone who has dealt with their ED and been so successful with accomplishing their goals gives me more motivation than I have ever had before. I can only hope that my success story will be able to impact someone as much as yours has impacted me.

TJ said...

You are an awesome inspiration. I saw you on CNN and going through your posts is a great resource for anyone (myself included) with weight issues. I lost 40 of the 55 pounds I wanted to lose until a few months ago and have since gained back 15. This post hits the nail on the head as to the reason why. I didn't stop listening to that negative voice and in fact, I gave into it and used ephedrine to lose that 40 pounds with only light diet and exercise modifications. In other words I cheated. Because of it I did not achieve healthy lasting weight loss, and more importantly I became a high strung angry person who mistreated his friends. I'm learning to listen now to the quieter, wiser voice of reason so that I can someday have a rocking body (and a hot wife, congrats!) like Mr.Bodyfat. Thanks for sharing your story.

Johnny said...

All I can say is keep on leading..

You da Man..

I am jumping on board with ya..

Scott said...

I am starting a 2-pound-a-week promise to myself tomorrow and I'm using this blog for inspiration and help.

I must say this was a wonder post for me to start with. I am an emotional eater and a boredom eater. If I am stressed or upset, I will eat. If I am bored, I eat. My weakness is salty carbs: Potato chips are the bane of my health.

While I still struggle with will power, I think the fact that I recognize this aspect of my eating habit is a step in the right direction.

That voice is something I hear when I've tried to diet in the past. I would be successfully to a point and then get derailed. The voice would say "you screwed up now, might as well just stop trying."

Steven said...

Thanks for this....I have found in my lifetime that the internal struggle with these topics is every bit as daunting, and tough to deal with, as the external choices to be made. Without dealing with the "mind"....the body won't follow. Great post. Keep it up.

Dan said...

My ED is exactly like Scott's. I've know it for some time now but I conveniently 'forget' when I decide to over eat. It takes a while to get it under control but I'm improving every day. Knowing other men out there suffer the same way sure helps! I've started my own blog (http://fatmanstanding.blogspot.com/) and will be tracking my progress. I hope you don't mind if I link to your site!

On another note, what do you think of boxing as a weightloss aid? I'd like to get a heavy bag for punching because I think it will help with my stress issues and it certainly would work up a sweat.

Thanks again!

Matt said...

I've trained in kickboxing and jiu-jitsu and can definitely attest to the wonderful cardiovascular benefits of both. Doing heavy bag at high intensity can help reduce your heart rate and burn calories quite well.

I advise you to try and find a boxing instructor or at least study correct form and purchase some bag gloves or hand wraps. Also, it wouldn't be a bad idea to eventually bring in some kickboxing technique into your heavy bag training. If you think punching a bag with power is liberating, try delivering a powerful roundhouse kick to it. :-)

Dan said...

Matt, thanks for the great advice. I just picked up a 70lb bag and will be hanging it tonight. I've also got some bag gloves but no wraps yet. I'll be studying proper technique online to start and see how that goes.

As for the kickboxing, I'll have to work towards it! LOL

Mr. LowBodyFat said...

Guys I'm really glad that I'm not along on this issue, as I'm sure many of you felt the same way.

As far as hitting the heavy bag for a weight loss aid, you bet your ass it is. I miss my heavy bag that I had in my garage when I lived in a house. Taking a page from Ross Enamit's book, I did intervals on the bag!

Matt said...

If you have bag gloves then you can do without the wraps. They can be a pain and the bag gloves will protect your hands well.

Try something along the lines of this...change the time of the rounds if you need to:

2 minutes of non-stop 1,2's (lead jab, straight)
1 minute break
2 minutes of non-stop 1,2,3's (lead jab, straight, lead hook)
1 minute break
30 seconds of 1,2's supersetted with 30 seconds of standing squats, then repeat.
1 minute break
2 minutes of whatever you want to throw...but go HARD!

Increase the rounds and decrease the break for added effect. Have fun! :-D

Johnny Mag said...

Oh so accurate post

Mr. LowBodyFat said...

Thanks Johnny; I'm glad that you can relate. Come back soon . . .

Mr. LowBodyFat said...

Matt,

I'm lucky I don't have my heavy bag because that sounds like one hell of a workout!

Matt said...

I was nearly on the floor by the time I finished the first time. My instructors are absolute beasts.

But after a month or so I was completing one hour sessions of jiu-jitsu, judo, and kickboxing four nights a week...and sometimes rolling with my instructor for 30 minutes afterwards. Ah...I really miss MMA.

Mr. LowBodyFat said...

Matt,

I really can't wait to take my BJJ classes! I'm going to have to wait until next payday to sign-up ...arrrgghhhh!