Until the other day, I had no idea who Demi Lovato was. Being 51 years old with no children, she is simply not on my generational radar. We do however, both have something substantial in common. We both suffer from the eating disorder Bulimia. Most people have a sense of what Bulima is about. You stuff your face and then puke it up minutes after. Some people also use Laxatives. Most however, have no concept of the destructive nature of the disease. The reason is that very few people come out publicly with their struggles.
It is terrible for Demi or any person to go through such as daily destructive self-image battle but if there is an upside, when someone in the media eye, like Demi, has the courage to go public with her struggles, it puts the spotlight on a disease that is often suffered in shame and silence, much like I dealt with it when I was her age. In reading an interview she gave on the subject, she said something that resonated with me.
“ don’t think there’s going to be a day when I don’t think about food or my body,
That is the truest, most revealing and concise statement of the disease that anyone could make. Bulimia is a daily war with food and body self image.
I went through a three year brutal battle with active bulimia while a student at Penn State University. There were relapses through the years up through 2006. If you think that it is a disease under-reported by men in the 21st century try being a 18 year old male bulimia sufferer on a college campus of Forty-Thousand in 1981.
Treatment for an eating disorder is for the most part not going to be anything a male 18 year old freshman college student contemplates. I was not about to ask for medical or other help. I did not even tell my family. I would not have even known what to tell them. I had no idea what Bulimia was. The binge-purge cycle was simply a “normal” part of my life like getting up and going to bed I went through daily emotional battles within myself. There is the overwhelming feeling of shame. I would have rather told my family I wanted a sex change than I was throwing up after every meal. You have no context for understanding what you are going through. You believe that once you are thin enough to have reached your goal all your social problems will be solved. Unfortunately the mirror tells you that you are never thin enough.
There is no doubt that in the hot-bod, infinite image explosion, G-Q generation we live in, men have become more aggressive in trying to emulate the male model types they see in various types of media. I never saw it that way. In the pre-MTV and Directv world of my college days, you were simply not exposed to those types of images to any significant degree. I equated being thinner with being more accepted and popular. I was not comparing myself to television and other media images. I was comparing myself to the people I saw around me on a daily basis. My perception going through high school was that there were no fat popular kids. I was not a model. I was just your average fat kid trying to fit in and wanting to be popular like the thin kids seemed to be. I wanted that life. I wanted any life but mine. In order to help my weight along I decided to get into long distance running. I eventually worked my way up to running 10 -20 miles a day, 7 days a week. I would run 10 in the morning and the same in the evening. I was always training for one marathon or another. When the day was over I scarf down a 2lb bag of peanut M&Ms. I would then head straight to my next best friend, the toilet, to puke it all up. This behavior was repeated with pizza, fast food etc. There were days that between not eating, puking after I ate and running long distances I was too dehydrated and weak to even get out of bed. No matter how much weight I lost or how thin I became I always saw the same person in the mirror. It was some beastly kid who still needed to drop a few lbs that had no friends.
In the span of one year I went from 230 lbs to 165 lbs at 6’2. As appealing as that may seem to some, it was a brutal, almost deadly ride that I would not wish on my worst enemy. In my mind being thinner was the only possible route to social acceptance. I was not trying to reach some unattainable model goal, I was simply trying to fit in. The problem is that regardless of why you think you need to either starve yourself or binge and purge the reflection in the mirror never ever changes until you are dead. About 10 percent of those suffering from Bulimia will ultimately die from the disease.
While the manifestation of the disease is many years behind me, as Demi stated, the issues of self image are a daily battle that never goes away. You simply learn constructive ways to channel them. Sometimes they are not so constructive. My self-image battle has also involved exercise anorexia, drug and steroid addiction. It is a daily, life-long struggle for balance. A perfect example is that even today, I have difficulty looking at myself naked in the mirror and accurately evaluating what I see. Good for Demi for raising awareness of the struggle.