A Malnourished Man: A Story of Confusion, Loneliness and Acceptance

Toby Fleming

When I was 18, I was a sporty, active, fun and loving boy, with an incredibly healthy relationship with both food, my family and my friends. I was known as being the life and soul of the party, and was always the first to say yes to plans. Not overweight, not skinny, just a normal guy, absolutely loving my life.

By the time I turned 20, and after my first year of uni, I had become a social recluse. Terrified of food, petrified of alcohol, I would rather stay in my room alone than go to the pub and make some friends. Sound familiar?

 

I’m going to be honest. I went through uni debating in my head whether I even liked girls, such was my lack of desire and sex drive. All my mates were out dating several times a week, while I would rather stay at home by myself in my room. I knew this wasn’t normal, but I just couldn’t work out why. If only I knew back then just how much of an impact that starving yourself has on your hormones.

While all my mates were out having the time of their lives, I stayed in, counted calories, obsessed over food, lost a lot of weight, and lost not only a lot of my mates, but also my whole appetite for life. Boredom, lack of structure and living by myself for the first time created a mindset shift into a world revolving around being skinny. My biggest thrill was stepping on the scales and seeing that the number had gone down.

As you can imagine, this feeling was incredibly lonely, being the only one of my mates who seemingly didn’t like to go out and have sex with as many girls as possible. I was so confused. I saw it as a chore, rather than a joy, and would avoid it at all costs, and just couldn’t work out why.

My brain and entire life became controlled by the food I consumed and the body I lived in. My world had shrunk so small, I no longer knew how to enjoy life.

I counted calories 24/7. I couldn’t eat unless I exercised. I ate the same things day in, day out, purely as I knew the calories in them. I couldn’t eat anything that involved sugar, fat or “unnecessary calories”. I starved myself after drinking alcohol. I only allowed myself to go out for dinner or drinks a certain amount of times per week. My brain and entire life became controlled by the food I consumed and the body I lived in, leaving no room to focus on anything else. My world had shrunk so small, I no longer knew how to enjoy life.

 

However, when I did venture out to see my male friends, they were all doing the opposite: talking openly about their “bulking” plans, discussing how much food they were eating daily, and how many girls they had been getting with recently. But I just didn’t understand it. No matter how much weight I lost, I never got the 6-pack figure I craved, never got the girlfriend I thought I needed, but I also didn’t get any happier. It was a vicious circle, and one I have remained trapped in.

 

Before I knew it, my brain had gone into starvation mode. My mind became obsessed with calories, food and exercise. I just wasn’t giving my body the fuel it required, and it didn’t know what else to do other than to slowly shut down.

The issue was, I felt I couldn’t discuss it with any of my mates. I was seemingly the only one who obsessed over food, wasn’t interested in girls, and obsessed over being thin, all the while being incredibly jealous of all my mates and their “normal” physiques. As a result, all I could do was pretend to copy their masculine ways, when in reality, I was in fact starving myself behind closed doors instead.

 

It took me until I was 27 years old, and the passing of my Dad, for me to finally admit that I had been living trapped by an eating disorder. That is 7 years of my life wasted to an illness that wants to do you nothing but harm. I got to the stage when I’d just had enough, and I was desperate to take back control of my life again. I no longer wanted to allow this illness to destroy my relationships with family, friends, food and exercise.

Many of you in recovery will know how lonely it feels being trapped by an eating disorder. The way to I push past this is to find people to relate to in similar situations. However, I came across a stumbling block: no matter how hard I searched, I could not find any men talking openly about it. When I had debated so long internally about whether or not to open up about it, this made me feel incredibly lost, embarrassed and ashamed. I felt so alone. The only people I could relate to online were teenage girls, whereas it seemed all other men were still discussing how to get bigger and stronger, living by the centuries-old stereotypes.

I am incredibly early on in my recovery journey. Turning around 7 years of bad habits, compulsive exercise and restriction isn’t going to be a short journey. However, in the short time I have been open about it, I have already discovered just how important it is to talk to other people in similar situations. As a result, I am desperate to be that guy that others can look towards when they also feel lost, confused and alone. As the truth is, they are not alone. Men all over the world are getting eating disorders, whether it be anorexia, bigorexia or just a disordered relationship with food, in the body-image obsessed society we live. Over ¼ of all eating disorders are now males worldwide, and yet it remains a female-dominant world when it comes to speaking up about it.

Eating disorders should no longer be something that you feel ashamed to talk about. Food is the fuel of life, and if it makes you feel any feelings of shame, anxiousness or guilt, then you have a disordered relationship with it, and should seek support.

Eating disorders should no longer be something that you feel ashamed to talk about.

My biggest regret in life is living with it by myself for 7 years. I know that if I had sought help sooner, I could have turned things around so much quicker.

 

My biggest goal in life is now to make sure that other people don’t fall into this same trap, that they don’t make the same mistake I did in trying to battle it by myself. It’s time to talk. It’s time to eat. It’s time to live.

Toby is a 27 year old, living a sociable life in London, while battling a long-term eating disorder. He has recently decided to come out and seek help. He is documenting some of his experiences on his Instagram as he is incredibly keen to support other men and women in a similar situation who, like Toby, were so scared to admit their issues for so long. You can find him @aguyandhisED.

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