Sam Thomas knows how men hiding an eating disorder feel – because he recovered from one himself. Together with the staff of his charity, Men Get Eating Disorders Too, and the corresponding website, mengetedstoo.co.uk, he is raising awareness of the disease in Britain and throughout the globe.
Do you think eating disorders are worse for British men or those in other countries?
The MGEDT website is visited by users from all over the world, and we know the inequalities men with eating disorders faced with are universal. Whether British men get it worse is hard to say, but indications show that between 25 percent and 33 percent of sufferers are male. Elsewhere around the world, figures vary, but typically approximately 10 percent of sufferers are considered to be male in the US and Canada. In the UK, it seems the issue of eating disorders in men is advancing in awareness and understanding ahead of other countries from colleagues’ feedback over the pond.
Are they enhanced by reality shows like TOWIE in any form, where it’s all about what you look like?
Unfortunately, reality TV and soaps can reinforce a the notion that it’s all about image and overrides substance! Celebrity culture, fashion and body image ideals are the focus point and are problematic and complex, thus impacting on men’s self-image. It’s important to remember the media is not to blame for eating disorders but can play a role in making men (and women) feel inadequate by increasing expectations and pressure on themselves to look a certain way. I personally chose not to watch TV, read magazines or newspapers as I think our nation’s obsession in celebrity is unhealthy and chose not to buy into it.
Does your website forum have total anonymity if men want to discuss eating disorders?
The website offers anonymity for those users who wish not to be identified, whether they are sufferers or someone in a caring role. For many sufferers they are aware of their eating, body image and self-esteem issues but find it difficult to admit to. By speaking with others in similar situations, this alievates the isolation and secrecy that enable the individual to accept and open up about what they are going through.
What are the right steps to take if you don’t want to seek therapy yet but think you halfway want to resolve your problem?
Therapy isn’t always the best option for sufferers including support groups, self help, peer support, etc. The most important aspect to recovery is establishing what that means to you and taking self responsibility. I’ve known too many sufferers who are in and our of treatment because they are not ready to recover – you can only achieve it when you are ready. Afterall, recovery is a long process that is trial and error and non-prescribed. If you are halfway to resolving the problem, then you are making vast progress, so keep going!
What is your advice for men who are gaining weight, or perhaps gain more than they started out with, and are depressed about it?
Firstly, I’d say don’t fret or panic, and just try not focus on the weight gain if you can. If you are in recovery from an eating disorder, then it can be alarming at first and to be expected. Remember that the change in weight is helping to fuel your body and mind to make further steps to a long-lasting recovery. It’s difficult and challenging, but in time you’ll readjust to the “new” you. Talk about it with people you trust, and don’t bottle your anxieties and concerns about weight gain.
Often, celebrities come out saying now much they love their weight gain, and “curves” if they’re women, only to lose plenty more weight sometime the following year. Obviously, they don’t love it. Does this also harm young people’s confidence when they see this happening?
Celebrities do have a tendency to change their image regularly, including gaining and losing weight as part of it. With the pressures of being in the spotlight, it’s no wonder. There’s a conflict in females to be curvy yet thin – swinging like a pendulem from one to the other! It’s a confusing message to vulnerable and impressionable young people affecting their confidence.
With increased education around body image and self-esteem in schools, this can go a long way to “nipping” the issue in the bud and creating a dialogue for young people to talk about the issues before the damage is “set.”
Should you leave people alone if your friend or brother has an eating disorder? Is it better for the person to want to do something about it himself?
There’s nothing worse than an elephant in the room, so to avoid the subject is unhelpful to all. Don’t ask straight forward questions about the eating disorder, as the chances are they will shut down or deny it. Instead, ask basic questions about how they are feeling and any issues that may be troubling them. In time, they will open up about their eating disorder when they are able to.