Many men secretly suffer from eating disorders

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ENCINITAS, Calif. — Men in San Diego are facing a dangerous health crisis, one they’re fighting in plain sight. Eating disorders, like anorexia, are all too common in a city that so highly values health and the “perfect body.”

“In San Diego, there are a lot of young men with eating disorders who are able to hide in plain sight because the behaviors that they’re engaging in like playing multiple sports in a day, working out for several hours, doing juice fasts, these are things that are very normal here,” said Dr. Erin Parks, Director of Outreach and Admissions for UCSD’s Eating Disorders Treatment and Research Program.

“You may not think much of it as a friend that they’re playing a sport with you for three hours. What you don’t know is that they were also at the gym that day and haven’t eaten,” she added.

The triggers for boys and men are different than girls and that makes it even more difficult to spot. Colt Gordon, 27, from Encinitas wanted to look like the "picture of health," meaning big muscles, no body fat. And their dedication to that is even applauded. Unlike girls, when a boy works out for five hours at a time, it’s considered dedication, not a warning sign.

“I absolutely got praise. Friends called me “Spiderman” in the Marine Corps and I loved it. It motivated me to obsess about my food and workouts more,” Gordon said.

For Gordon, his journey back to health has been a long one. He’s been running away from a very dark personal secret.

“I grew up in a very hectic household with a lot of drugs and alcohol. I felt anxiety from a very young age,” Gorson said.

High school wrestling, with its constant pressure of gaining and losing weight for matches, elevated Colt’s anxiety to a new level.

“Originally it was, here’s my body. Here I am. And then it was, here’s my body, that equals my worth. And so I started to look at myself in a different light.” he added.

Like thousands of young men across the country, a dangerous secret spiral began. Colt ate less and less, all while trying to gain more and more muscle.

“I would obsess about it. I need to look exactly like this guy on the magazine. If I don’t look like that, I’m worthless,” he said.

After high school, his anxiety hit an all time high when he enlisted in the Marines.

“I was very stressed out in the Marine Corps, getting yelled at a lot. To handle it, I would go weeks eating nothing but apples and pears. It gave me a sense of peace to not eat," he said. "I started realizing this is called an eating disorder. This is called anorexia.”

Colt hit the web looking for help but quickly felt alone. No website even made mention of men having this disorder,  further adding to his shame. Eventually he found his way to the UCSD Eating Disorders Treatment and Research Program.

“We’re definitely seeing more males in treatment. In our pediatric clinic, our youngest kids are ages 7-13. Usually about half of them are boys,” Dr. Parks added.

As researchers study hat wiring, there are 5 red flag personality traits friends and family can be on the look out for:

  1. high anxiety
  2. over studying
  3. practicing sports for hours a day
  4. high attention to detail and overachievers
  5. can’t “turn off” their intensity

Thanks to four months of treatment, 10 hours a day, Colt is back on his track towards health.

“It’s something I’m always going to need to keep my eye on. I’m always going to need support. But understanding this disease, it changed my life. I have a life now.”

For more information, visit UCSD's eating disorder web page or call 858-534-8019.

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