A Mother’s Message of Hope in the Wake of Great Loss
I want to preface this article by saying that I am not a doctor; I am not a therapist or a nutritionist. I am simply a mother. I am a mother who battled an eating disorder that I had no control over. This was a battle that, ultimately, ended in suicide. No, I’m not a specialist. I am a grieving mother.
Are eating disorders a female disease?
If I were to ask you to picture someone who has an eating disorder, who would you picture? The majority of people I asked this question to said they pictured a female — or more specifically — a teenage girl. So to answer the question above: are eating disorders a female disease? The answer is: absolutely not! I had never pictured a boy having an eating disorder until I witnessed it first-hand within the walls of my own home.
Eating disorders affect males, too
Yes, males are affected by body image issues and eating disorders. Males are known to engage in behaviors like over-exercising, restricting foods, purging and frequently checking their bodies out in mirrors.
And, unfortunately, with the constant images on social media and television, male eating disorders appear to be on the rise. Whether they really are more prevalent or whether there is simply more awareness now is undetermined — but we are seeing more males with eating disorders.
How I noticed that my son had an eating disorder
I first noticed my son had a problem when he became obsessed with running. I then started to notice that he was restricting foods and eating less. He rationalized it by saying that he just wanted to eat healthy foods and what I had made for dinner was too fattening. Other days his excuses were that he wasn’t hungry or he had eaten at a friend’s house already.
A mere two months passed from the time I noticed these initial signs of anorexia to the time he was diagnosed with anorexia by our family physician. In only two months he was in Bradycardia and was admitted to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. Once his heart was stable he was transferred to a neuropsychiatric unit where he could be watched around the clock. He spent a month in inpatient after which we brought him home and worked on recovery there.
As those of us who do not have eating disorders care for our loved ones and their disease, we don't understand why our loved ones can't "just eat.” I know I felt that way at times. It was incredibly challenging.
My son dealt with anorexia and bulimia
After Justin started treatment, I was overjoyed when I started to notice that he was eating again. He seemed to be "cured." I wanted to believe that he was better but I soon realized that we were now battling bulimia.
I first suspected a problem with bulimia when my son started spending long periods of time in the bathroom. Over time I saw him displaying other warning signs of bulimia. While he WANTED to eat again, he still had a fear of food.
Justin had many excuses as to why he was eating so much or spending so much time in the bathroom. When I tried to talk to him about these things he became very defensive about his behavior. He would lie and say that he didn’t know what I was talking about.
It saddens me that there is so much unnecessary shame surrounding people struggling with this very serious disease.
Justin was doing well with at-home treatment until January of 2015 when his cousin Kyle took his life. The shock of losing his older hero was devastating to him and he relapsed.
Justin spent two months in Washington’s Eating Recovery Center in their inpatient program from April to June of 2015. Once he was home, he seemed like his old self and appeared happy and well-adjusted. Like many mothers would, I was listening to my own intuition; mine was telling me that he wasn’t out of the woods yet.
By August, he began showing some behavioral problems.
In September, he blamed his behaviors on the stresses of starting school.
On November 20th, 2015, my son succumbed to ED by taking his own life.
A beautiful life was lost because of this ugly disease.
We must always maintain hope
Yes, males are affected by eating disorders, too. They may be ashamed or embarrassed to open up about it, though, because they don’t want to appear weak. This is why open communication is crucial! Eating disorders are a real battle and we MUST put an end to them.
Although my son couldn’t get well enough to overcome his disease, I still truly believe that it is possible for others to do so. I have not lost hope and will continue to be a loud voice to raise awareness for all males with this horrible disease. Please, pay attention to your loved ones and don’t be afraid to have the ‘real’ and difficult conversations. You might just save a life.
If you or someone you know is showing any of these symptoms above, PLEASE, reach out for help. Help is always available. You just have to talk to someone.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or if you know someone who is, the national suicide hotline is (800) 273-TALK.
If you are dealing with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, speak with a clinician at Eating Recovery Center by calling (877) 711-1796.
About the Author:
My name is April. I am a mother of four amazing boys who are my world. We are a close family and are very supportive of each other. ED crept into my home and took over my son’s life. For a year and a half, I studied eating disorders and learned as much as I could about them while I dealt with Justin’s battle. In January of 2015 we lost our cousin, nephew and friend to suicide. His death was excruciating. A short ten months later Justin took his life. Kyle was 24 and Justin was 17. They had their entire lives ahead of them. My family now deals with a gaping hole in our hearts everyday missing these sweet boys. My sister and I, who used to share fun things like clothes and secrets about boys, now share a dark and horrific pain. It’s a pain that no mother should have to endure. This is an epidemic that MUST stop and I will do whatever I can to raise awareness.