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Anorexia: Why Shame Still Stops So Many Men Get Help | Society

DAniel Magson's worst moment came as a 21-year-old student. "I found myself getting sick in the bathroom," he says. "My throat was bleeding and I was almost going through pain.

"I can remember lying on the floor in the bathroom, praying and thinking, 'kill me.' I didn’t believe there was a way out and I was okay with that. "

Magson, now 27, the leader of the Eating Disorders Campaign and the chairs of the charity Anorexia and Bulimia Care, has lived with the eating disorder since his early teens. "I struggled with my identity and being gay in a small town in north Yorkshire, plus my parents both were diagnosed with cancer, and I found that illness was a form of control," he says. "By the age of 18, I was very sick and my mother helped me find a doctor, but he just told me that men didn't have anorexia. I was completely discharged. It made me so ashamed that I just lied about it. I told my mom that alone on the road to recovery and I went to university where everything was getting worse and worse. "


Magson's experience is not unusual. While statistics suggest that the number of men presenting or living with eating disorders and body dysmorphia is increasing – a 2015 magazine on the subject funded by the UK Medical Council found that 25% of those with eating disorders are men – saying that the question remains a problem to many men. The same paper concluded that less than 10% of men living with an eating disorder seek professional help.

So it's little wonder that actor Christopher Eccleston made headlines when discussing his lifelong experience with anorexia and dysmorphia. "Many times I have wanted to discover that I am a lifetime anorexic and dysmorphic," he wrote in his memoir I love bone from you, "I've never had one." I've always considered it a dirty secret, because I'm a northerner, because I'm male and because I'm working-class. "

Eccleston is not the only celebrity to deal with the problem. Harry Potter and Twilight actor Robert Pattinson recently spoke about his anxiety and struggles with body dysmorphia, while Game of Thrones star Kit Harington also discussed ongoing problems with achieving the perfect body. James McVey, guitarist for the Vamps Group, has opened up about his "negative relationship with food".

"When people express themselves in this way, it helps a lot to reduce the embarrassment and stigma surrounding men's eating disorders," says Robert Wilson, chairman of the Foundation for Dysmorphic Body Disorders. "That being said, even this is how conversations can feel like a grain of sand in the Sahara. There are still significant challenges that need to be overcome."

Robert Pattinson

Robert Pattinson is one of the celebrities who helped raise awareness about men's eating disorders. Photo: Stephane Cardinale / Corbis via Getty Images

Chief among them is the conviction of more men to declare themselves. Journalist and author Nate Crowley hid his bulimia for years before being moved to talk about it on Twitter after seeing Eccleston's comments. "One of the reasons I never talked about it is because I'm a bigger man and I always remember John Prescott talking about his bulimia and how he got sick – he jokes it all, obviously it doesn't work," he says. "Seeing different reactions to Christopher Eccleston's comments made me think that things were changing and I could talk about my experiences. So far, this seemed impossible. "

Crowley admits he was surprised by the overwhelming reaction to his confession, but adds that talking about it does not immediately resolve everything. "I've been better the last year, but even now there are times when I have impulses," he says. "As a bigger man, you are the last person to doubt. If nothing else, they think you probably have too healthy access to food."

Rhik Samadder, whose memoir I never said I loved you Sharply honest about his own experiences with eating disorders, mental health and self-harm, he adds that it is important to look at the reasons why men continue to try to acknowledge a problematic relationship with body image.

"The dark side of social media is that it democratizes everything," he says. "This is how you see men increasingly struggling with self-esteem with the culture gym and orthorexia [a preoccupation with eating healthy food] and they become hyper-aware of how they look on screen.

"It didn't help in my case that I was born in a culture that gives me the feeling that I'm not wanted because of how brown I look. I think I was trying to make myself invisible and not a target."

The problem is that the shame felt by many men means they do not seek help until they reach a crisis point, says psychologist and psychotherapist Dr. Christian Buckland. "Because eating disorders are still often seen as betrayed by women, men struggle with the idea that they might be the only guy in the room," he says. "There may be high school drop-off rates for men. There is definitely a sense that men stay much longer before they go to clinics, so they are often in trouble by the time they seek help."

Danny Bowman, vice president of the charity MaleVoiceEd, which focuses on eating disorders in men, agrees there is a problem with health care. "Many men come to us who are too ashamed to talk about their problems or feel they can't be the only person in the room," he says.

"There is a lot more that needs to be done, especially within the professional field, to improve our level of understanding around body image and eating disorders of men."

In the UK, you can contact the Beat Eating Disorder Charity at 0808 8010677 or email it at (18+); (students); or (under 18). In the United States, the helpline number of the National Eating Disorders Association is 1800 9312237. In Australia, the contact number of the Butterfly Eating Disorders Foundation is 1800 33467

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