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i'm a man with bulimia
Andy Garland Therapies - Counselling Cardiff - Mental Health Services Cardiff - Cardiff Therapists - bulimia - men with bulimia - eating disorder

Like Freddie Flintoff, I am a man who has suffered with bulimia. On an early October morning in 2018, I went for a run. I had one goal: to keep my weight down. For the best part of the year, I had been living in a cycle where I would restrict my calories as much as I could, punishingly exercise multiple times a day, and finish with uncontrollable bingeing when I would consume as much food as possible.

I didn't know it then, but like former England cricketer Freddie Flintoff, I was suffering from an eating disorder. I like to describe these episodes as though I was sprinting blindly through a fog which only lifted when I finished eating. I didn't know what had happened; I would 'come round' after the end of bingeing and just experiencing the end result of pain. Something that was my constant, both physically and mentally.

Consuming any food extremely distressed me, I panicked that others thought I was 'fat' and avoided social events while I tried to solve my pain by bingeing in secret. I began to lose my desire for anything. Food and my weight were the only things on my mind. Around five minutes into that October morning run, I broke down. Soon afterwards, I spoke to a close friend who pushed me to see a doctor. After listening to what I'd been going through, the doctor diagnosed me with an eating disorder: bulimia.

I had to admit that on some level, I was suffering, which was terrifying. Even so, I'd begun to assume that was just how my life was going to be — yet I knew that I hadn't always been this way. So how had I ended up here? Early in 2018, I agreed to compete in a boxing match for my university.

I was incredibly excited. To prepare, I counted every calorie I ate, weighed myself multiple times a day and trained rigorously. During this time, I lost a fair few kilos to satisfy a weight category for the competition. I started to receive a lot of positive comments about how I looked. Before this, I was never really given much attention - these compliments made me feel special, desired in some way. At some point in the process, I internalised the belief that people only appreciate me when I lose weight.

Andy Garland Therapies - Counselling Cardiff - Mental Health Services Cardiff - Cardiff Therapists - bulimia - men with bulimia - eating disorder

After the competition, these 'healthy' habits transformed into a painful cycle of extreme restriction, bingeing and purging through my obsessive exercise. It helped me try to satisfy beliefs about myself, but it was never really enough. Many other people in the sporting world appeared to have similar habits to mine around food and exercise, but seemed fine. Then there was the conception that bulimia involves making yourself sick — and I wasn't doing that either.

My GP finally explained to me that any sort of purge after bingeing, be it by exercising madly or self-induced vomiting, is considered a symptom of bulimia. They also dissuaded me from the idea that eating disorders were something only women struggled with. I soon discovered that up to one in four people who suffer from eating disorders are male. Sport participation is also a major risk factor when it comes to developing an eating disorder. There are many reasons why: weight brackets, wanting to optimise performance in any way, and aesthetic ideals, among many others.

Despite this, we still mistakenly believe eating disorders mainly affect women and that taking part in any sport is good. This is incredibly damaging. I could not accept that I was suffering, as I couldn't see anybody else like me having similar issues. It was just a 'me problem' — clearly no other guys experienced these issues. I could also use sport to mask my destructive food recording, weight observation and punishing exercise as being 'dedicated'. This was before I went to my doctor, further complicating things as I spent more time believing my disordered habits were 'healthy', or at least necessary. Even after starting my recovery, I believe a lot of my so-called 'healthy' habits were really just disordered thinking in disguise. For instance, I thought that feeling bad for missing a gym session was just my mind showing how determined I was, not because I was petrified of gaining weight.

Andy Garland Therapies - Counselling Cardiff - Mental Health Services Cardiff - Cardiff Therapists - bulimia - men with bulimia - eating disorder

Lack of representation results in a lack of understanding. Without realising the different ways eating disorders can manifest, we tie our hands from reaching out for help, as well as reaching out to those who are directly affected.

My friends and family knew that 'something' was going on, but couldn't figure out what. I don't blame them; I didn't know either. I believe a lack of information on how eating disorders affect men, as well as sports people, is a big reason why we only stop at suspecting 'something'. But this needs to change. We need more voices speaking up. I was moved when I learned that Freddie Flintoff will be discussing his long battle with bulimia in a documentary tonight.

Seeing such a high-profile man speak out on such a public stage is something I needed, to know that I wasn't alone. Being isolated in my struggles persuaded me to keep it to myself. I believed I could get through my issues whilst keeping it all to myself. I got myself into this 'mess'— I would get myself out of it. In fact, it was reaching out to others that truly helped me recover. I didn't realise how complicated, difficult and deep-rooted some of my issues were around my eating disorder. Without having others on my side, I don't think I would have really got to where I am today.

My recovery was fairly quick, as I had a good support system that looked out for me, but if I'd realised earlier that my experience wasn't mine alone, I might have been more confident asking for help. Although I would count myself as recovered, there is still work to do which I'm not sure will really ever go away. When I get particularly stressed, some of my first thoughts are to start reducing how much I eat, to try and look better in a mirror. I become more self-critical of my body, my fitness, I start to believe I need to start exercising a lot more. However, when I am struggling, I know to be honest and tell people.

I used to always hide when I went to therapy, telling people I was going to a 'meeting' to hide my shame. I don't feel that shame anymore. If I need help, I know to reach out. I can feel bad for doing so from time to time. However, I'd rather have that discomfort - which is purely a result of the conditioning that men must be stoic and never suffering - compared to the pain I felt through my disorder. If you are suffering with food, weight, exercise, anything, reach out. You are not alone in this; I am with you along with many others.

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