‘I’m speaking out for a minority’: Meet Chris, a 40-year-old with anorexia, who is speaking up to raise awareness about eating disorders in men
The number of males being treated for eating disorders in England has increased by 27% over the past three years
Chris is a man ‘with an illness broadly estimated to be 80-90% female’ - but with the number of males being treated for eating disorders increasing by almost a third since 2014, Chris wants his story to reinforce that eating disorders do not discriminate based on gender, race or class.
The Early Days
Although he is now aged 40, Chris’ story begins back in his twenties. Whilst he was still at university some 15 years ago, Chris entered a tough time in his life.
‘A close friend and I entered unhappy episodes in our lives at more or less the same time. My response – but not hers – was to start restricting my food intake,’ explains Chris. When he then visited a counsellor with the concern that he was developing anorexia, his suggestion was more or less brushed off.
Yet, when his female friend went to a nurse who looked at her naturally petite frame, she was asked if she was eating properly – regardless of the fact she was.
This, says Chris, is when he realised that it was different for boys.
‘I was left to figure out my eating problem for myself,’ he says, looking back.
‘I doubt whether that would have happened in quite the same way today. But challenges do remain where gender and eating disorders are concerned.’
Eating disorder sufferers face an average wait of three and a half years for specialist treatment.
- Beat (2018)
A Lifesaving Phone Call
Today, Chris is in a hospital bed, two weeks into treatment for his anorexia.
He believes that he’s had an undiagnosed problem ‘for the past year or more’. He'd been losing a lot of weight, particularly over the past few months – yet, no one around him took him aside to address the matter.
After taking himself to yet another general consultation which had no urgent outcome as a result, Chris turned to picking up the phone.
Calling the Beat helpline – which provides advice from trained support workers in a safe, non-judgemental space – was the reassurance that Chris had required for so many years. He indeed required professional medical help for his condition.
Beat urged Chris to return to the doctor – this time, for an emergency appointment. Chris’ GP then informed him that he was a borderline case for hospitalisation. ‘I remember closing my eyes in shock – I had no idea things were that serious. I was admitted for treatment less than a week later.’
‘I’ve been fed ever since through a nasogastric tube. For all I know, that one phone call to Beat might have saved my life,’ expresses Chris.
Speaking of his illness, Chris speaks candidly: ‘I’ve been in tears – repeatedly – because I just don’t understand it myself.'
He also feels that due to his age and gender, he’s had to ‘work just that little bit harder’ for his suspicions about his eating disorder to be taken seriously over the years. ‘If there’s such a thing as a typical anorexic patient, I’m not that person.'
‘I’m a man with an illness broadly estimated to be 80-90% female. I’ve recently entered my 40s, whereas sufferers are typically in their teen years or early 20s.’
Yet, BBC News reported just last May that the number of males being treated as outpatients for eating disorders has increased by almost 30% in the past three years in England – an issue which is clearly on the rise.
It is therefore Chris’ intention to speak up for this minority. He shares that his hope for the future is acceptance of the true diversity of this group of illnesses.
‘Eating disorders don’t discriminate on grounds of gender, age, race, or class – so neither should the support available to those affected,’ finishes Chris.
"That phone call to Beat might have saved my life."
Looking to the Future
Chris thanks his friends for their positive response to his diagnosis, and plans to soon join a self-help support group using Beat’s Helpfinder to find a local service.
However, it is clear that more must be done to ensure people of all ages are able to access eating disorder treatment as soon as they need it.
Current waiting time targets exist only for under 18’s – with adults facing an average wait of three and a half years for specialist treatment.
Beat are therefore campaigning that the Government introduce waiting time targets for adults with eating disorders to give the best possible chance of recovery, with a petition found here.