National Eating Disorders Association

Male Eating Disorder Activism Takes Flight

Carl Derry

The study and treatment of eating disorders is woefully lacking, especially for men. The majority of Americans think this is a woman’s disease, but statistics show that 10 million men in the United States will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life. 

To raise awareness (and money), I am embarking on my own charitable journey. Literally. On September 24, 2016, I will be in York, England wing walking on an antique bi-plane. For those who don’t know what that entails, I will be strapped outside to the top of the airplane (not in the cockpit) as it flies around the countryside. 

This is a bold and daring stunt for anyone, but I am 62 and recovering from an eating disorder. My hope is that this act will generate a lot of publicity, which will in turn help men who are suffering with eating disorders get the help, support and treatment that they need.

Eating disorders come in all shapes, sizes and symptoms. Advances in research about eating disorders show that there is a wide spectrum that includes many different behaviors. Anorexia, bulimia and BED (binge eating disorder) are the three most common, but there are others, including ARFID – Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, which is what I have. 

Unlike the other disorders, ARFID is not about dieting, exercising or body image, but is about the food itself and can begin in infancy. ARFID is often described as being a picky eater. It can be a refusal to eat foods of a certain color (no red food), or texture (no cream sauces) or no vegetables or no meat. It can be about foods touching each other or their shapes. Some people with ARFID are normal weight because they can eat enough of safe foods, but others have diets so limited that they cannot get enough calories and appear to be anorexic.

For me, it started when I was four years old. Since this was the 1950s and I was a boy, the doctors told my parents that I would outgrow it. To some (small) degree, they were right. The symptoms of ARFID can decrease or go away over time, or they can morph into anorexia or bulimia. The sooner treatment begins, the more likely recovery can be successful.

I have gained enough weight that today I am thin but not “anorexic.” And I can appear to be an adventuresome eater, as long as it is not a food I was introduced to in my childhood. If I have never seen a food before, such as sushi, there is a very good chance that I will try it. But the triggers and behaviors remain. Food rules my life, from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed. Dinner at a friend’s house can be an act of sheer terror, as were work lunches. I am convinced that my disorder harmed my career.

After a lifetime of coping and hiding in the shadows, I hope that by doing something “newsworthy” I will be able to shine a light on eating disorders, especially for men and children. Stay tuned for my follow-up post when I get back!

Carl is raising money for NEDA. Support his fundraising efforts through Crowdrise and Go Fund Me