Eating Disorders are largely (and incorrectly) seen as a rich, white, girl’s problem. Not only is it unusual for a boy to have an Eating Disorder, it would seem nearly incomprehensible for a logical, intelligent, successful boy to have one.
But one boy did.
That boy grew up to be my husband.
He’s ruthlessly logical and systematic. He *has* emotions, but keeping them under strict control was a source of pride for him. He’s always valued his ability to consider a situation logically, without applying his feelings to any decision.
Yet, starting in elementary school, The Vulcan started restricting his food intake.
He began by insisting that no food touch another food. He told his parents that he had separate stomachs for all the food to digest in. He refused to eat any food that touched another, so that his stomachs wouldn’t be contaminated.
By middle school, he became more and more picky. He insisted on an unchanging routine around food:
-For breakfast, Cream of Wheat.
-For Lunch, a turkey sandwich (with exactly four thin slices of turkey, no dressing, and a slice of cheese) matchstick carrots, Sun Chips, and a carton of milk.
-For Dinner. Spaghetti. Always Spaghetti. No meatballs. No meat in the sauce.
His parents thought he was diabetic, but he always tested negative.
He was rail-thin, but he also worked on his family’s farm. That may have saved his life, because he wasn’t able to lower his food intake enough to restrict his physical activity.
Despite his disordered eating, he was incredibly flexible. By age four, he said he wanted to be “an Olympic Boy” when he grew up. Later on, he loved performing stunts on his bike, doing flips on the trampoline, and climbing trees.
At night, he slept with his arms curled around his body, and his shoulders tucked in a strange position.
However, today he doesn’t struggle with food, and has a ravenous appetite. What changed? Why did his food restriction say, “This far, no further”?
To hear him tell it, it’s because he went away to college, and no one was there to cater to his food choices any longer.
His first few days on campus were painful, and full of hunger. He told me about finally going to the dorm convenience store, buying a half-gallon of milk and two large muffins, and eating them in one sitting.
He started forcing himself to try more food. Indian, Thai, Italian, Greasy American Breakfast food from Denny’s, nothing was off limits as he started experimenting.He was still picky, of course. There was always something that could be better.
And boy, was he fun to cook for when we got married.
I can’t believe I worked so hard in my cooking skills, and tried so hard to please him, only to later realize that I was submitting to an Eating Disorder.
#Patriarchy is illogical, my friends. Absolutely illogical.
We learned to overcome that habit after I left Complementarian theology, and after I woke him up about some of his not-so-subtle sexism. We decided that, between us, regardless of who does the cooking, or how the end result tastes, the person doing the eating will be thankful for the effort, and eat what’s put in front of them.
However, we only saw my husband’s childhood behaviors as an Eating Disorder after The Firecracker was diagnosed. Specifically, after her conversation with her therapist about “narrowing.” The Vulcan’s eyebrow went up, the lightbulb came on, and he said, “Fascinating. Now I understand why I behaved the way I did in middle and high school. That was a lot of spaghetti.”
Sadly, men are frequently overlooked in any conversation about Eating Disorders.
There’s hardly any research about the prevalence and treatment of male Eating Disorder patients, because the majority of studies are designed with women in mind. This is a travesty. Current estimates place the number of male Eating Disorder patients in the US alone as around 10 million, and at 25-30% of the ED population.
The Vulcan isn’t even the first male Eating Disorder sufferer that I personally knew. I sat beside one during my last semester of undergrad, in a drama class. I watched as his cheeks sunk inward and his hair fell out. He knew he had an Eating Disorder, and said he was getting help for it. But we weren’t friends–I don’t even remember his name.
But in The Vulcan, the contortion, the narrowing, the need for routine, and the pickiness are all traits he now shares with his daughter, The Firecracker.
The good news is, since leaving the Patriarchy, and making sure we eat the food we have (instead of picking over it and saying every little thing that’s wrong with it), the Vulcan is the healthiest member of our family. He & I make a great team.
And I love him with all my heart.