The testimony of celebrities has helped raise awareness of eating disorders in males. But 90% still suffer in silence
Daniel Magsons worst moment came as a 21-year-old university student. I found myself making myself sick in the bathroom, he says. My throat was bleeding and I was nearly passing out from the pain.
I can vividly remember lying on the bathroom floor, praying and thinking, kill me. I didnt believe that there was a way out and I was totally OK with that.
Magson, now 27, an eating disorder campaigner and the chair of the charity Anorexia and Bulimia Care had been living with an eating disorder since his early teens. I was struggling with my identity and with being gay in a small town in North Yorkshire, plus my parents both had a cancer diagnosis, and I found that making myself sick was a form of control, he says. By the time I was 18 I was really sick and my mother helped me to find a doctor, but he just told me that men dont have anorexia. I was completely dismissed. It made me so embarrassed that I just lied about it. I told my mum I was on the road to recovery and went to university where everything just got worse and worse.
Magsons experience is not an unusual one. While statistics suggest that the number of men either presenting with or living with eating disorders and body dysmorphia are on the increase a 2015 paper on the subject funded by the UK Medical Research Council found that 25% of those with eating disorders are male talking about the issue remains a problem for many men. The same paper went on to suggest that less than 10% of men living with an eating disorder seek professional help.
Small wonder, then, that the actor Christopher Eccleston made headlines when he discussed his lifelong experience with anorexia and dysmorphia. Many times Ive wanted to reveal that Im a lifelong anorexic and dysmorphic, he wrote in his memoir I Love the Bones of You. I never have. Ive always thought of it as a filthy secret, because Im northern, because Im male and because Im working class.
Eccleston is not the only celebrity to have tackled the issue. Harry Potter and Twilight actor Robert Pattinson recently spoke about his anxiety and struggles with body dysmorphia, while Game of Thrones star Kit Harington has also discussed ongoing issues with gaining the perfect physique. James McVey, guitarist with the Vamps, opened up about his negative relationship with food.
When people speak out in this way it does a great deal to help reduce the shame and stigma around male eating disorders, says Robert Wilson, chair of the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation. That said, even conversations such as this can feel like grains of sand in the Sahara. There are still significant challenges to overcome.