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Wasting away: Men's eating disorders on the rise

While our society does a better job of identifying eating disorders among women and girls now, we still have a long way to go in doing the same thing for men.

TAMPA, Fla. — In recent decades, awareness surrounding the issue of eating disorders has increased exponentially. 

Fifty years ago, very few doctors knew about eating disorders or how to treat them, but a steady campaign of awareness and education has brought the problem into the light. 

However, while our society now does a better job of identifying eating disorders among women and girls, it still has a long way to go in doing the same thing for men.

The statistics are impossible to ignore.

Eating disorders in men are getting more and more prevalent. In the ten years between 1999 and 2009, hospitalizations involving eating disorders for male patients increased by more than fifty percent. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, men make up a quarter of people with anorexia and bulimia and more than a third of people with binge eating disorder.

“Most of the males that I’ve seen that have been hospitalized recognize that they have a problem,” said Dr. Pauline Powers, a psychiatrist & medical doctor specialized in treating eating disorders. Powers, an internationally recognized expert on treating eating disorders, said she sees a growing number of men at her practice. She said that something she almost never saw when she first started.

“It’s definitely more [men] now, that’s for sure. Maybe people just weren’t coming for treatment, maybe they didn’t know what it was, I don’t know,” Powers said. “It’s difficult though, very difficult for men to get over this.”

“I just don’t weigh myself because it’s a trigger, I don’t want to trigger anything,” said Austen Sims, sitting on a chair in his Tampa living room. At 24 years old, Sims has been to treatment for his eating disorder four times and nearly died multiple times. “If I cared about losing my life then I wouldn’t have gone back four times.”

Sims used to play college football. He would spend hours in the gym every day. Now, he said just going to the gym could trigger a deadly relapse of his eating disorder.

“I was upwards of about 330 pounds,” Sims said. “I would spend like four hours at the gym, that’s why I don’t go to the gym anymore because that’s, like, a big trigger for me.”

After his playing days were over Sims went on a mission to lose all that weight, a downward spiral that eventually landed him in the hospital.

“Like any other nineteen or twenty-year-old guy, I wanted to meet girls, so that was kind of my turning point into my eating disorder was, ‘I want to meet girls so I have to lose this weight so I look more attractive’, and that’s kind of when the body image stuff started,” he said. “Not being able to go to work, not doing anything with friends or anything like that because I have to go work out again.”

“Right now, it’s not so bad because I am in recovery, it’s not too, too bad but the way I feel in my body is not the way I would like to feel,” added Sims. “I feel overweight, I feel heavy, I feel like I’m back at like 200, 300 pounds. I feel like I’m up there where I was before, and I don’t like that feeling.”

These days, Sims limits his exercise to thirty minutes of walking a day and he still has to force himself to eat, often when he doesn’t want to. And Sims said he’ll have to keep fighting this battle for years to come, knowing that his next relapse could be his last.

“If I do go back then I’m dead,” he said. “Like, I’m not going to see my 25, 26, 27, or 30 birthday. I don’t know how long it would take but knowing my track record it wouldn’t take very long.”

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