FROM READERS: How I fought my eating disorder

Friday, February 28, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST

In his teenage years, Missourian Reader Ryan Branson had anorexia. Now he wants to help others with the disease. Branson, 24, studies Nutrition & Fitness at MU.

Male eating disorders: It’s not a topic that a lot of people probably hear about very often. Most people in our society automatically associate eating disorders with females; however, eating disorders can develop just as easily and be just as dangerous for males. Unfortunately, I was confronted with the stigma surrounding eating disorders the hard and personal way.

Having had spastic cerebral palsy all of my life, I’ve been exposed to severe bullying and ridicule related to my mobility, especially during my adolescent years. The constant ridicule of my physical disability caused me to strive for a slim figure. That way, at least I wouldn’t get made fun of about my weight, too. Unfortunately, it got out of control and at the age of 17 I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.

While being in an in-treatment facility for the next month, and having continuing outpatient monitoring and therapy for many years following, I found that being a male made eating disorder recovery an even tougher and frustrating battle. I was lucky to find an in-patient eating disorder treatment center in my home state, as many residential and hospitalization-based treatment facilities are restricted to females only.

Going through treatment, I saw first-hand the stigma that there is about eating disorders being a female disease. This was frustrating, as eating disorders do not discriminate. Males deserve the availability to all of the same care as any female does. Eating disorders can be deadly, as it literally almost was for me.

Having gone through and experienced eating disorder treatment as a man, I have made it a passion of mine to be an advocate for other male sufferers and help reduce the stigma attached within society. I have recently conducted my own research study at my current university on college students’ knowledge and attitudes on eating disorders in males. The hope with this research is that the urgent need for more awareness will be made even more evident and the topic will start being addressed more publicly.

I want to help other sufferers, especially males, as I’ve been through it myself and I know that many times the sufferer may feel that no one else understands. It is important to help lessen that all too common feeling of loneliness and let them know that there is someone who understands and that getting through this is not impossible. Having experienced and survived, I can say for certain that a life with an eating disorder isn’t a life. I want to help other sufferers begin to be able to live again.

In order to fulfill my aspiration of helping other male sufferers, I am going to England to undertake a graduate course in eating disorders. There is much more awareness of male eating disorders in the UK. I will observe and research what is done differently in the UK that allows awareness to be greater, allowing research and medical practices to be shared between the UK and US.

Finally, as an active member of the National Eating Disorders Association, I will report my findings and experiences to the organization to better educate and reduce the stigma around men and eating disorders here in the U.S. I also aspire to become the founder and organizer of the first organization in the United States that is targeted specifically at extending support to males who suffer.

So, the next time you hear “eating disorder” try not to fall into that all too common misconception of it being a female thing, it’s simply not. The sooner we as a society can get past this, the sooner males suffering will be able to admit their struggle and get the help that they need. No person should have to feel ashamed for having a medical condition.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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