*Peter Heglund-Lohman is 19 years old and an economics student at the University of Washington. He hopes to be a resource for those who feel they do not have a voice*
I am writing this for all of the men and boys without a voice.
As I reflect back on the past year I cannot deny the sadness I feel in my heart. A year ago I turned in my track uniform a month early, left my coach’s office, and drove home in the rain. I had just had the most difficult conversation of my life.
It’s not an easy thing to tell your coach that you are anorexic. Eighteen-year-old boys are not supposed to be anorexic. State qualifying sprinters are not supposed to be anorexic.
You see I, like most boys my age, was convinced that eating disorders were perhaps the most feminine of all mental health disorders–something that would never once cross my mind as a possible explanation for my rapidly deteriorating physical and mental health. Even after being forced to quit my all-time favorite sport for risk for cardiac arrhythmia, I shut out any suggestion that I was sick.
Because as boys we are told that we are okay.
There is no doubt in my mind that young girls grow up in a world that glorifies emaciated models and flawless pop-stars. It pains me to admit that we as a society continue to thrust these figures into the forefront of our children’s every existence. Because they suffer too. But as boys we grow up worshipping ultra ripped athletes and six-pack laden superheroes, and guess what? We want to be just like them.
I guess that’s why anorexia for me is so frustrating.
I just wanted to be the best athlete I could be. I wanted to win every race. I wanted to impress my teammates and coaches with my athletic prowess. I wanted the body-fat percentage of an Olympian. So I stopped eating.
A certain number of dropped pounds later, I was putting up some of my worst performances on the track. I couldn’t focus for two minutes in school. I had no sexual desire. I was a dismal shell of my former self, burdened by a complete loss of emotion. My heart rate was dangerously low and my testosterone even lower. My hair stopped growing and began to thin. I was sick.
And yet I was the last to admit I had a problem.
A year later, I am no longer ashamed to acknowledge my anorexia. I spent my first semester of college as a full time student and a full time patient in an eating disorder clinic. I am so grateful for all of my doctors, therapists, and nutrition specialists—without them I would still be that gaunt teenager running himself to death. I have restored my weight and love and support my own body.
And now I wish to be a voice for all of the men and boys who are too ashamed—as I was—to come to terms with their sickness.
There is NOTHING feminine about an eating disorder. Chemical imbalances affect all people no matter their gender. We cannot continue to reinforce emasculating stereotypes about eating disorders. We must stop stigmatizing the conversation around eating disorders. They are real mental illnesses and their victims must be represented just like any other disease.
Please help me to deconstruct the stigmas surrounding eating disorders.
To all the young men out there who are dissatisfied with their bodies, starving themselves, or exercising themselves to the extreme: you have a voice, and you have allies.
Please do not refuse to seek help because you feel you will lose your masculinity.
Please speak up. There is hope.
Your body is your only home and it must be taken care of.