When Michael Whitehead started losing weight almost three years ago, it seemed like a good thing.
“I was overweight and made fun of for most of my life. Relentlessly,” said the Fairfield County teen. “But then I became extremely obsessive.”
He dropped more than 100 pounds in six months. He began to eliminate many foods from his diet, eating almost no fat. At his lowest point, he ate about 700 calories a day and exercised at least three hours.
He felt that he couldn’t stop.
Whitehead was 16 when a doctor diagnosed anorexia. At one point, the 5-foot 9-inch teen had shrunk to 120 pounds.
He now is 18 and a senior at Amanda-Clearcreek High School. He has been through two inpatient-care programs and continues to get care at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. His weight is up to about 180 pounds, and he’s on medication that helps ease the obsessive-compulsive disorder that helped fuel his illness.
Whitehead is troubled by advertising that depicts young men who are impossibly thin and yet still have muscles. Images such as that contribute to the disorder by encouraging people to attain an impossible physique, to seek “perfection,” he said.
And he’s adamant that people, including doctors, should be better at recognizing eating disorders in boys and men. Initially, he said, doctors “were like, ‘Oh yeah, you’re a guy, you can’t have an eating disorder.’
“I think that society really needs to know that this is not just a female problem.”
A population-based study published in 2007 found that men and boys were one-third as likely as women to have anorexia or bulimia and more than half as likely to have a binge-eating disorder.
“I think it’s still viewed as a predominantly female disorder, and I think that’s going to be a hard thing to change,” said Dr. Terry Bravender, chief of adolescent medicine at Children’s.
There are many obstacles, including doctors who don’t recognize it and patients and families who resist getting help, he said. “I’ve seen boys and young men embarrassed to come in because they think they have a girls’ disorder. And I think a lot of times boys have to be really impaired to be identified as having an eating disorder.”
In male patients, problems typically arise a little differently, he said. They often start to eat healthier and exercise more in hopes of building muscle. Then other mental illnesses – including obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety – lead to development of the disease.
Anorexia and bulimia can lead to osteoporosis, heart problems and, in the most extreme cases, death.
Read the full article at The Columbus Dispatch.