My journey with NEDA to bring awareness of EDs to men and the LGBTQ+ community

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Ryan Sheldon

Ryan Sheldon, NEDA Ambassador

30 Million Americans will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their life and 10 million of those are men, a number that I think is extremely underrepresented due to the stigmas that surround mental health and men. Eating disorders in men is something you hear far too little about, but it’s something I am far too familiar with. And thanks to NEDA taking steps to spread awareness of not only eating disorders in general but men in particular, the word is beginning to spread.

When my friend came to me and said, “Ryan, I think you should speak to your therapist about your eating habits,” I was confused. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with my eating behaviors or thoughts around my body image. Never in a million years did I ever imagine the words “Eating Disorder” would play a huge part in my life. Men don’t get eating disorders. That’s what I thought at the time anyways.

After doing more research, I quickly realized that eating disorders are a mental health issue and they do not discriminate against anything: gender, race, orientation, religion, social economic status, etc. If this was the case and I had been having non-stop thoughts about my body and food for many years, why wasn’t it ever brought up in a therapy session? The reality is that doctors have so many things to screen for that eating disorders may fall low on their list of priorities. Also, many are not equipped to assess or treat patients with eating disorders because they just don’t have the necessary education.

Nonetheless, I went to my doctor and told him what I had been going through. He did his part and officially diagnosed me with an eating disorder. Wahooo, problem solved. I got the diagnosis, now what? Looking back, I thought the diagnosis was the cure. Little did I know the road ahead was a long, tough one.

At the time of my diagnosis, I did what any other person would do—I went to google and typed in “men with eating disorders,” and to my surprise, nothing really came up. How was that possible? How could there be no real solid information out there on men with eating disorders? Or any blog posts about it? That’s when I decided to start my Instagram @BingeEaterConfessions, to share my story and start showcasing my struggles and successes as a man with an eating disorder and body dysmorphic disorder.

A little after that, my relationship with NEDA started. I would write blog posts on what it’s like being a man with an eating disorder. And while that was great, there still wasn’t much available in terms of other men sharing their stories, any really good documentation, or programs for men.

Wow, what a couple years has done. I am extremely grateful to NEDA for beginning to create more awareness for men struggling with eating disorders and body image, as well as raising awareness of eating disorders and body image issues in the LGBTQ+ community. NEDA is currently working on creating body image programs directed toward boys; how incredible is that!

Being asked to be a NEDA Ambassador was one of the scariest yet proudest moments of my journey. Scary because it most likely meant that I was going to have to come as I am, talk openly about my eating disorder, body image issues, and my sexuality. This was terrifying. Sure, I already did it before I was an Ambassador but now that NEDA was going to put their stamp of approval on me, I felt it was my duty to be as authentic as I possibly could be and that was something I was not doing before. On the flip side, this was one of the proudest moments, because I finally felt that as a cis male, my story was resonating. This was so important to me, because I speak openly about my story so that other men, no matter what their sexuality—, straight, gay, bi, trans, etc.— know they are not alone. Thanks to NEDA, this is possible.

Remember, not only am I on this journey, but so is NEDA. They are working continuously on how to bring awareness of eating disorders and body image to men and the LGBTQ+ community.

A motivational speaker and brawn model, Ryan has been educating audiences about body image and binge eating disorder since his own diagnosis in 2015. Passionate about raising awareness of binge eating and body image issues as an Ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association, he has shared his story with the Today Show, Huffington Post, and Teen Vogue, among other outlets. An LGBTQ+ man living in a larger body, Ryan also speaks to teens about masculinity, identity, and body confidence. He is currently working on a book about his and other men’s experiences learning to eat mindfully and love themselves just as they are. You can find Ryan on Instagram at @BingeEaterConfessions or at his blog