Eating Disorders: Prevalent in Women, Understated in Men

Guys can be anorexic.  Guys can be bulimic.  Guys can be bullied.  Guys can be teased.  Guys can have low self-esteem.  These aren’t just women’s problems.  This was a tough pill for me to swallow.

I met someone on campus through a mutual friend a couple of weeks ago.  We’d seen each other countless times over the course of the year, but we’d never had the opportunity to talk to each other.  Something struck me about this person from the first time I ever saw him on campus.  He seemed unique and different – I never quite figured out why I thought that.  But regardless, without having ever spoken to him, I had a strange gut feeling that this was someone I was supposed to meet.  Lo and behold, after…one and a half semesters? of making awkward eye contact with each other in school, we finally met through a mutual friend.  The first time we met, we merely introduced ourselves to each other.  The next time we met again, we talked for…almost an entire school day, and by the end of that day we were as close as friends who had known each other all year.  This was at the beginning of the week.

At the end of that very same week, I learned something that shook me for quite some time.  I had recently met a different new friend on campus, and eventually I found out that my two new friends actually knew each other.  One night, I was at friend #2’s apartment, and when he was walking me out afterwards, he told me that friend #1 had had a lot of issues in school growing up.  He had no friends in high school, he was the one that everyone teased, and even now in college, nothing has seemed to change.  He told me that at one point, he was afraid that friend #1 would kill himself at the height of it all. 

I felt like someone had yanked the chair out from under me.  I didn’t understand.  Every time friend #1 and I are on campus together, he says hi to 10 different people in a 5 minute interval.  He has so many friends that I lost count!  Right?   I couldn’t help but think for a second that we were talking about two different people, but friend #2 told me that most of the people friend #1 talks to in school are just superficial friends, and some of his so-called “friends” are complete jerks.  I was dumbfounded.  I couldn’t wrap my head around it.  I swore to friend #2 that I wouldn’t let friend #1 know that I knew, but I swore to myself that night that I would take it upon myself to amend this situation – undercover style.

Friend #1 and I had another lengthy conversation soon after that day, and to keep this post as short as possible, I’ll skip to the point and tell you that he told me that he was and still is both anorexic and bulimic.  The eating disorders stemmed from people giving him a rough time in high school for being “the chubby kid.”  On hindsight, I wish I had responded better to what must have been a very difficult personal disclosure to make, but I was so caught off guard that I couldn’t even offer any words of support.

The things that friend #2 told me and the things that friend #1 told me himself haunted me for days and nights.  It was just so wrong that anyone had to go through that much emotional struggle growing up.  I wanted to help, but there was so much emotional baggage attached to the situation that I didn’t even know how to help.  For days I felt trapped between wanting to act immediately (it’s my nature to always want to fix problems immediately) and reminding myself that in delicate situations like these, sometimes it’s best to take it slow.

I felt so desperate for days, racking my brain for an answer.  For days I prayed to God that he might give me the strength, courage, and patience to help in such an emotionally loaded situation.  And finally one day, I realized what I had to do.  It was so obvious I couldn’t believe I didn’t think of it before.

Every week, for one night, I get together with a group of peers from school.  We are all members of a Christian group together in school.  Regardless of whether or not you’re religious, I don’t think you can deny – if you were to meet them – that these are some of the most warm, accepting, genuinely sweet, and open-hearted people you’ve ever met.  These were the type of people that I wanted friend #1 to be around.  It’s such a safe and nonjudgmental environment to be in that I knew that I had to do whatever it took to convince him to join us without being suspicious as to my reason why.

Now, I knew that my friend was not Christian.  But I was prepared to reassure him, if he had concerns, that it’s not like that.  We are not exclusively open to members of the Christian faith.  We are open to people who aren’t sure if they believe, and even people who are of different religions who just want to see what Christianity is all about.  In short: we are open to everyone.

So yesterday, he came.  As I expected, everyone immediately welcomed him; if I had just walked into the group for the first time, I wouldn’t have known that he was the new person.  Long story short, I think last night was a success.  In the grand scheme of things, last night was actually only a tiny and very minute dent in the work that I have ahead of me to help him recover from his past.  But I strongly believe that this was a step in the right direction.  I texted him afterwards to tell him that I hoped he had fun, that it meant so much to me and friend #2 that he came, and that he was always welcome to come back.  His response: I’m glad I came too. 

Someone once told me that you only need one good friend.  It’s not the quantity of friends, but the quality of a friend that counts.  Of course I would prefer that my friend will find both the quality and quantity, but if all else fails, I hope he knows that at least I’m not going anywhere.  Like any friendship, ours has its ups and downs.  Sometimes he makes me angry, sometimes he annoys me, sometimes he’s utterly frustrating.  But I always pray to God that I will always be reminded that even if I get hurt in this process, it pales in comparison to what my friend has gone through.  His problems are bigger than mine, and I need to put my problems aside to be the best friend that I can be.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that I had a gut feeling that I had to meet this person, but I didn’t know why.  I’m now convinced that this was all in God’s plan, and that gut feeling was His way of telling me that.

To the guys that are dealing with eating disorders and/or self-esteem/self-worth issues: there are people who care.  There is always someone who cares.  You just have to find them.  400 people in high school making you feel like you’re not good enough?  Screw them.  The world’s population is over 6 billion. 

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