1 in 4 men: James' eating disorder story
For Eating Disorder Awareness Week, James shares his experience of anorexia and bulimia nervosa, as well as social anxiety. After struggling with an eating disorder for ten years of his life, James now works as a Personal Trainer, supporting clients who have experienced similar mental health difficulties. He sheds light on the gendered disparities when accessing eating disorder treatment and the importance of recognising how far you’ve come.
From the ages of 17 to 27, I experienced both anorexia and bulimia nervosa, as well as undiagnosed depression and social anxiety. I was so fearful of going out, meeting friends and going to work, that I essentially locked myself up in the house for ten years; even a chat with a supermarket cashier was difficult. I knew that getting better required doing these ‘normal’ life things, so I remember feeling like I was stuck in a catch 22. At my worst point, my parents had to sign a 'do not rescucitate' form when I was in hospital. I spent three months in an eating disorder unit when I was 22.
Whilst I was learning how to eat again, people I knew were getting married.
I was only allowed to go to the ED (eating disorder) unit as a day-patient, instead of an inpatient like everyone else. This was because there were only female residents in the unit, and they couldn’t separate the ward in terms of gender. I only knew one other guy who had eating difficulties and the stigma really affected my recovery. I’d think to myself: If this is a ‘female’ disorder, why me, why have I got it?
I was put on a refeeding diet and basically had to relearn how to eat. It was a process full of ups and downs – relapsing, then progressing, then relapsing again. Eating disorders are very secretive illnesses, too. When I was living with an ex-girlfriend, she knew what I was getting up to and trying to hide. I was so absorbed in my eating disorder, that it sometimes turned me into a compulsive liar.
I remember feeling like I was stuck in a catch 22.
My recovery started when I joined the gym. I used social media to track my progress and transformation. It wasn’t set up with the intention of becoming an influencer or anything, but a way to hold myself accountable, to properly commit to my recovery. I completely turned my life around. I got back to a healthy weight, had people online reaching out to me, did modelling and acting for a while. I discovered my passion was to support others in similar situations, helping them with their health and fitness. My recovery was symbiotic - I wanted to share my story to raise awareness and hope for others, but in doing so, I also found something I loved to do. I often work with mental health charities and have spoken in podcasts about my experiences.
I’m now 34 and have my own business as a Personal Trainer (PT). I feel like I’ve created my own niche in this field with the support I offer – around 40% of my clients have experiences of social anxiety and depression. My PT programme is based on a triad system of mindset, nutrition and training. To stay healthy, you need to think about your cognitive functioning, and exercise isn’t just about building muscle, but doing some sort of activity; even walking the dog has benefits. When your head’s feeling right and the diet’s right, you can become the best version of yourself. Then the good times will follow and you’ll also be more able to deal with whatever life throws at you.
When your head’s feeling right and the diet’s right, you can become the best version of yourself.
I don’t think you can categorically say you’re ever properly over an eating disorder, but I’m now much more aware of it and can manage it better. On bad days, I open up to my partner and the people around me, so they can also spot the signs. I have an internal conversation with myself to check in why I might be feeling bad, sometimes I write the worries down. I’ve developed coping strategies, like running a bath or playing football.
I’ve learnt that life is like a book – each instance of trauma or success is a chapter. Whilst I was learning how to eat again, people I knew were getting married, so it’s not like you have to do certain things at a specific age or otherwise you’re a failure. It’s okay if you end up doing things later. This year, I’m doing real adult things, like getting married to my partner, going abroad for our honeymoon and hopefully pooling enough money to put down a deposit for our own house.
You may also be interested in
1 in 4 men: Christopher's eating disorder story
For Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Christopher speaks about his long battle with anorexia nervosa. Although his eating disorder negatively impacted his studies, self-esteem, social life and physical health, Christopher is on the path to recovery, rekindling what he has lost. He now works with charities to raise awareness around eating disorders and to challenge gendered stereotypes. Here’s his story.
Read more 1 in 4 men: Christopher's eating disorder story
My body is my home - Molly's story
For Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Molly shares her experience of recovering from an eating disorder. In a world that is obsessed with diet culture and unattainable beauty standards, Molly explores the importance of self-love, body positivity and the freedoms that recovery can bring.
Read more My body is my home - Molly's story