Why I write about eating disorders in boys

In 2009 it took us months to work out what was wrong with our son, weeks to get his eating disorder diagnosed and an even longer wait for treatment. We were met with stumbling blocks at virtually every stage mainly, I believe, because of a lack of awareness that boys can get eating disorders just like girls.

I blog, write books, do talks and appear in the media because I want to help other parents to identify the signs of anorexia in boys and seek prompt and effective treatment. I also want to do my bit to fast-track parents through what was a massive learning curve for our family. I want to offer hope, to show that recovery from an eating disorder is possible and to point families to support groups that can help them to succeed in getting their son or daughter through the eating disorder.

Eating disorders aren't just a 'girl thing'

How it all began...

During the summer of 2009, my 15-year old son Ben began to behave very strangely...

It's difficult to pin-point when Ben's eating disorder started. Ever since he moved to secondary school, he'd been an active and athletic boy. Before the anorexia kicked in he'd been a star player in the school rugby team. He also played for his local team. Pre-anorexia, he'd enjoyed squash, swimming, walking, cycling, cross-country and athletics. Being part of the sporty crowd had given Ben a kind of kudos. He already had his own close circle of friends, but being 'the guy in the rugby team' earned him respect and admiration across the year group.

Anorexia crept in virtually unnoticed at some point during the summer of 2009 (although, looking back, the warning signs of an eating disorder were there even earlier). By October 2009, we realised with horror that an eating disorder had entered our lives. By Christmas, Ben was locked into the illness; it held him like a vice.

Anorexia tempted Ben with promises of looking physically perfect. His role models became the Adonis-style men you get in men's fitness magazines. The only problem was that, in practice, it didn't work out like this. The eating disorder robbed Ben of his self-confidence, his self-esteem, his social skills and his sense of fun. He even lost his much sought-after 'six pack' as the anorexia began to eat away at the muscles in his body.

It wasn't until late September 2009 that the alarm bells began to ring in our heads. Ben was exercising more than ever and carefully watching what he ate. He became increasingly interested in cookery. Crucially, he also started paying a lot of attention to what went into a recipe: calories, fat, etc and the word 'healthy' crept into his conversation about food over and over again...

On holiday in France in July 2009 Ben was swimming 100 lengths a day of the holiday villa pool (mind you, he'd done that the previous year so we weren't unduly concerned). But he was also going for a run every day, turning down all offers of ice cream, refusing to put butter on his toast, making his own pack lunches and increasing his intake of fruit and dried fruit.

When we got home he joined the local gym, went on lengthy and very gruelling runs, and started to see his friends less. This concerned us because up to then sleepovers, meals out, cinema visits and hanging out with his mates around town had been a regular part of his life. Ben also seemed quite subdued. He seemed to have lost his usual zest for life and his sense of fun.

You can read more about this early stage in my first blog post (January 2011). Alternatively you can read the complete story in my book Please eat... A mother's struggle to free her teenage son from anorexia which is available from Amazon.

Please Eat... A Mother's Struggle To Free Her Teenage Son From Anorexia

"What kind of symptoms was Ben displaying in the summer of 2009? Actually they were text-book signs of an eating disorder like anorexia, but my husband and I hadn't a clue what was happening. Below you'll find a list of typical symptoms of an emerging eating disorder in boys."

Anorexia in boys - typical symptoms

Over the summer of 2009 Ben was showing text-book symptoms of a boy developing an eating disorder. These included:

  • Intense exercise without pleasure
  • Dieting & avoiding a widening range of foods
  • New interest in 'healthy eating'
  • Obsession with nutritional labels on food packaging
  • Eliminating fats / carbohydrates from diet
  • Increased interest in cooking
  • Ritualistic eating
  • Belief that he was 'getting fat'
  • Social isolation
  • Losing weight

The faster an eating disorder is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome

Our GP missed the signs of Ben's escalating anorexia, our local Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) didn't view his case as urgent and so it wasn't until February of the following year that Ben began treatment for his eating disorder - and only then because he'd been admitted to hospital with a dangerously low pulse rate (Bradycardia).

"As Ben plummeted into anorexia I was busy cramming up on information about eating disorders because, if the NHS wasn't viewing his case as urgent, then I knew that I'd have to jump in to do whatever I could to try and halt the eating disorder's progress. I couldn't just stand there and watch my son fade away."