Mike Marjama currently has a successful career as an American baseball catcher for the Seattle Mariners, but he once struggled with an eating disorder that threatened his ability to play the sport he loves. As a teen, Marjama attended Granite Bay High School in California and later played baseball for California State University. While in high school, Marjama developed an eating disorder that eventually led to inpatient treatment.
Today, Marjama is open about his personal experience with an eating disorder to inspire others, especially men and boys, to seek to help and support they deserve. Read more of his story in our interview below:
National Eating Disorders Association: Can you tell us about your struggles with food and exercise?
Mike Marjama: From a very early age, my goal was to mirror the image of the “media norm” for a male physique. The images on Abercrombie & Fitch bags set the bar for me on how my body should look. In order to achieve that “ideal body,” I focused on two things: limiting how much I ate and working out relentlessly. Being an athlete, I saw certain foods as deterrents. I wouldn’t walk down certain aisles in the grocery store and thought of foods in terms of negatives, like how much calories or sodium specific foods had.
By not eating much, I thought I would get rid of my fat and by working out a ton, I would get big and strong. When I didn’t see the desired results, I worked out more and ate less. This spiraled into bulimia.
NEDA: Did you experience any specific frustrations as a male struggling with an eating disorder?
Marjama: At the time I was struggling through my darkest days, most of the recovery methods for eating disorders were geared towards women. In outpatient treatment, I was the only guy in there and had no relatable person to talk to. As a male, my biggest frustration was how to build muscle. I cared more about how I looked than the read-out from a scale.
NEDA: What do you wish more people knew about men and food and body issues?
Marjama: In my opinion, numbers aren’t factual. There are far more men who suffer from poor body image issues than the numbers indicate.
There is a strong link between body image among men and steroid and supplement abuse that seems to be ignored from a reporting standpoint. How many males use steroids outside of athletics to look better? At some point, many guys turn to steroids and other substances as a means to bulk up, but we still seem to focus only on steroid abuse among athletes, who are a very small percentage of the population. While many women use diets and other means to look thinner, many men use these substances to gain muscle.
NEDA: At what point did you realize that you had a serious problem?
Marjama: I first realized that I might have a big problem when I started resorting to extreme methods of calorie restriction (bulimia primarily). But my struggles with eating disorders only got worse. I was a perfectionist and didn’t want to admit that I needed help. I remember sitting at the dinner table at Thanksgiving in my sophomore year. I didn’t put much on my dinner plate and my mom knew something was wrong. She was the one who enrolled me in counseling and finally, the inpatient program. For me, going through the inpatient/outpatient experience was an eye-opening experience on how serious my struggles had progressed.
NEDA: How do you maintain recovery with a busy and active career and lifestyle?
Marjama: The most important part of recovery is having a strong support system. That alone is not enough, though. I’ve prioritized adding positive affirmations into my routine and putting a greater focus on time management. I also prepare for each day and stay diligent with improving my coping skills, which have been crucial as well.
I try to see food in a more positive light now. In order for me to perform, I need to fuel my body. If my body doesn’t have nutrients, I can’t perform at my best. A complete and balanced diet has helped me look and feel better as well.
NEDA: What role did baseball and athletics play in your journey, both positive and negative?
Marjama: Sports have played both negative and positive roles in journey. While no one is to blame, wrestling opened the door to extreme calorie cutting techniques I wouldn’t have otherwise known of.
Conversely, not being able to play baseball my junior year of high school due to my eating disorders helped me understand the passion I had for the baseball. Baseball gave me a goal and ultimately played a major role in my recovery. It’s something I love, so I need to fuel my body in order to perform. I also learned that sports psychology provided me some excellent skills to cope with the disorders through means I can relate to.
NEDA: What are you doing now to fight stigma surrounding eating disorders in men?
Marjama: This Q&A would be one. I’ve also partnered with Uninterrupted to create a documentary that tells my story in a compelling manner. I’m using my platform, however small it may be, as a megaphone to speak out. My goal to fight the stigmas around eating disorders is to tell my story loudly to anyone that will listen. If I can help bring this discussion to the forefront, perhaps more people struggling will find the support and resources I was blessed to find. I want other people, especially young people, to know that it’s okay to seek out these resources.
NEDA: What would you like men who are struggling right now to know?
Marjama: First and foremost, men must know there is hope for them. 2) Utilize the resources available to you. 3) This issue is not exclusive to women and it’s not emasculating to get help. Most people, at some point, will struggle with body image issues and feeling like they’re not good enough. It’s okay to have these thoughts, but there are healthy and positive ways to cope with them.
Men of all shapes and sizes and from all corners of the world suffer from and improperly cope with eating disorders. We can and must do better.