Skinny Genes

26 Mar

Dear LetterBalm: My boyfriend turned 16 almost a year ago and decided to get healthy. Since then, he’s been obsessed with diet and exercise. He’s in the gym and exercise room when he’s not in classes, and he’s a fanatic about what he eats. He won’t eat his mother’s food, and he won’t sit down with his family at dinner. He eats celery sticks, a hard-boiled egg, and complains that it’s too much. He’s gotten really skinny – not like a runner’s body, but like a starving man. All he talks about is food and exercise. Our friends are really bored with him. I’m really worried. I think my boyfriend is anorexic, and I don’t know what to do about it. I brought it up once, and he said that only girls get anorexia. 

–Eating Me Up

Your boyfriend is mistaken. Between 10% and 20% of eating disorders are experienced by men. It does, indeed, sound like your boyfriend is anorexic. He’s risking a host of problems, including loss of teeth and muscle (and hair, if he’s vain). Extreme anorexia can result in organ failure and death. Ms. L.B. often advocates intervention; this is one of those times. You need to speak up, loud and clear. First, talk with your boyfriend. If he won’t listen, talk to a responsible adult – his parents, your parents, your school guidance counselor, a coach who knows him, a member of the clergy, a parent of his good friend – until somebody listens and undertakes to advocate for him. Anorexia is difficult to cure because it has both physical and psychological roots in control and self-image. Start with some research online, and have a confidential talk with your boyfriend. Don’t be deterred if he gets angry or defensive:

Orson, let’s talk about your health regimen. Baby, it’s not a health regimen. You’re not healthy. You’re too thin; you look like a starving man. All you talk about is food and exercise, and you won’t even eat a normal meal at home or out with me and our friends. I know you think it’s none of my business, but I’m really worried about you. You’re killing yourself because you’re anorexic. You say that boys don’t get anorexia, but that’s not true – ten to twenty percent of these victims are male. If you don’t talk with your parents and see your doctor right away, I’m going to talk with any responsible adult I can. I have to help you, Baby. You’re in trouble, and I care about you, even if you get angry at me.

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