While more men are speaking out about their eating disorders, including Freddie Flintoff and Zayn Malik, it is often considered ‘a female illness’.
One survivor is determined to use his voice to shift this perception so that boys and men feel supported in coming forward to get help.
Adam Fare was just six-years-old when he began experiencing body image struggles, before developing an eating disorder at the age of 11 when he transitioned into secondary school.
Speaking to InspoDaily, Adam shared his story and why he believes diagnostic rules need revolutionising in healthcare so that they focus on the mental aspect of the illness too.
Adam said: “I was never ‘sick enough’ with my weight, never getting to the BMI number needed for treatment, but I was also never well enough to truly thrive.
“This led me to advocating for change because I never want another person to have to go through what I did, and I want to raise awareness that eating disorders do not discriminate by body size, gender, race or any other characteristic.”
Currently, eating disorders are diagnosed or fast-tracked for treatment when someone’s body mass index [BMI] is deemed low enough to ‘merit’ a referral to special services.
The BMI calculation divides a person’s weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared to measure whether they are healthy.
Yet this is problematic as many people with eating disorders do not necessarily present with extreme low weight and therefore on paper to not meet the criteria to get help.
This inaccurate and outdated strategy meant that tragically Adam was once turned away by professionals and told to get worse so that he could access treatment.
Adam said: “One day my brother found me passed out in my room, I went to the GP again and asked for help. They said they could help me but only if I lost a little bit more weight.
“They sent me away for a week. I came back seven days later at the ‘magical’ BMI number.”
It was then that medics realised Adam’s heart was failing, his blood had become acidic, and his kidneys weren’t working – he was dying.
Adam was put onto a medical ward to be monitored, though with no specific eating disorder support, and was simply told to “eat as much as you want”.
Upon discharge from hospital, Adam was put under the crisis team. At his first appointment with them, they explained to him that they had never had a man in their system before so didn’t know what to do with him, before blaming his parents who were sitting beside him.
Adam believes that change can come if we shift focus from the BMI which only spotlights the physical aspects of an ED, despite it being a complex biological and psychological illness.
Even with the physical aspects of it, these often don’t show for a long time after the thoughts, feelings and behaviours have entrenched themselves into someone’s mind.
Adam said: “With services being so stretched, they often have to use BMI to say if someone is ‘sick enough’ for treatment.
“I am now a ‘normal’ weight, I’d be classed as ‘recovered’ to many, but I still have no social life, my routine rules by food and exercise, and I am nowhere near mentally recovered.
“My body is still recovering too; I still have no hormones and still have other symptoms too. Weight should not be used as a measure of how recovered someone is.”
Adam spent years yo-yoing between recovery and relapse, never really knowing that to do. Fortunately, he credits his “amazing family” for getting him to where he is today.
Today, his eating disorder has caused him to need a colostomy bag for the rest of his life, after his bowels prolapsed, and he may be infertile too.
He also lost his dream of being a footballer and feels he lost his sense of self, all of which may have been prevented had he received early treatment when he was 11.
Now, Adam is trying to rebuild his life and has stopped weighing himself, recognising that his weight is not his worth and does not dictate his recovery.
Asked what his pearls of wisdom might be to anyone struggling now, Adam said he wants people to know that they deserve support.
Adam said: “I know that the help isn’t always out there but please push and keep pushing. You deserve support and you deserve to be happy. Your weight is not your worth.
“Often eating disorders can be a feeling of being unsafe, so we control or comfort ourselves with food. There’s no shame in struggling but the first step is to be honest about it.”
He added: “Finally, reach out to charities like Beat who can give some brilliant advice, and read up about your struggles and people who have recovered too.”
Going forward, Adam strives to help society move towards a cultural change where we can defeat our relationship with weight and aesthetics.
He believes our current obsession with body image is damaging to everyone, not just those with eating disorders, but all of us manipulated into believing we aren’t good enough as we are.
For confidential advice, visit Beat or call their helpline 0808 801 0677 (from 9am–8pm during the week or 4pm–8pm on weekends and bank holidays).