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Dear Love FAQ,
I'm a man with an eating disorder: Specifically, I'm six foot three and 104 lbs. My girlfriend of four years is pressuring me to gain weight. The catch is, I am literally terrified of the thought. Pushover that I am, I've always been willing to do anything for her. But how do I deal with this?
Thanks for your time,
Red Warrior Needs Food Badly
Dear Red Warrior,
Eating disorders aren't about the number on the scale or the food on your plate. They're about fear, control, and distorted self-perceptions. You point out that you're technically underweight, but it bears noting that plenty of people with eating disorders are of average or even above average size. It's not what you weigh that matters - it's what you see (or don't see) when you look in the mirror.
The myth persists that eating disorders are diseases only for celebutants and teenage girls, but the truth is, these illnesses can strike people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. That you're willing to admit to one - especially as a man, given the stigma - means that you're already much further along toward your recovery than you might suspect.
Admitting it really is the hardest part.
Your first order of business should be to book an appointment with your GP. You can even ask your girlfriend to accompany you, or other friends or family members, should you need the support.
Tell your doctor that you have an eating disorder, and be prepared to describe your symptoms in detail; if it helps, make a list before you go. Your doctor should be able to diagnose any related conditions or contributing causes, and should be able to recommend locally-based treatment options that will work for you, be it therapy, nutritional counseling, in-patient treatment, or so on.
Keep in mind that many doctors still lack training or experience on how to properly diagnose and treat eating disorders -- particularly for male patients -- so don't be afraid to ask questions or seek a second opinion. (This is also where having a third-party advocate in the room with you can help.)
You may want to specifically seek out doctors knowledgeable in eating disorders; for contacts, browse the Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center's website, or the Something Fishy eating disorder treatment database. Also consider calling the National Eating Disorders Association's 24-hour helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
One last thought: Try to remain patient with your girlfriend. By fixating on your weight, she likely isn't trying to badger or control you; she just wants you to be healthy and happy, and maybe she doesn't know the right way to express it. But if what she says makes you feel pressured or uncomfortable, you must tell her so.
And recognize that you can't -won't - get better just for her sake. If your treatment's going to stick, you must want to get better for yourself, too.