how body image affects men
  • December 9, 2022

Episode 13: How body image & disordered eating affects men (Alex Rodriguez)

Today we will be talking to Accredited Practicing Dietitian Alex who has recently moved up to Brisbane from Melbourne to […]

Today we will be talking to Accredited Practicing Dietitian Alex who has recently moved up to Brisbane from Melbourne to work his dream job at River Oak Health.

His own lived experience has fuelled an interest in the eating disorder space. He believes that full recovery is possible and aims to help others rebuild a healthy relationship with food to live their lives to the fullest.

In his spare time you will likely find him exploring the outdoors, at a Brisbane Lions football game, in the gym or listening and (attempting) to rap to hip hop music.

In this episode, we will be discussing men’s body image, and eating disorders in men.

 

 

Question 1: What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Alex: A few things:

  • If I wasn’t a dietitian, I would be a psychologist or in the emergency services.
  • I’m half Latin, Costa Rican to be specific
  • I can touch my nose with my tongue

 

 

Question 2: From following your journey on social media, you chat about your lived experience of recovering from an eating disorder. Can you tell us a bit about this?

Alex: It goes back a long time, but I’ll try my best to summarise it.

  • I always start with my parents getting divorced which is a common risk factor my many people as it was such a big life change. It was like the ground was pulled out from under my feet and I felt unstable all at once.
  • I was always an anxious kid with low self-esteem and easily became preoccupied with things.
  • After this life change I felt like I needed something to control so I turned to food which spiralled into using food as a way to cope with my emotions. This led to by body changing and other kids started bullying me about being at a larger weight. This made me very body conscious which spiralled into a restrictive eating disorder.
  • My mum took me to a dietitian pretty fast and being an impressionable 11 year old he got me back on track pretty fast.
  • However, years later in high school when more life and body changes started, this triggered my previous thoughts again. I felt very conscious to be the athletic kid and became very preoccupied with it.
  • Halfway through the year I broke up with a girlfriend which created a gap in my identity, and I clung harder to healthy eating and exercise. After about a month this had spiralled and my parents took me back to the dietitian however, it was too late. When the body is so undernourished, the brain becomes starved and is unable to think clearly.
  • I eventually ended up in hospital which was a big turning point. After staying there for a month, it took another 6-8 years of recovery with the help of a dietitian and psychological support.
  • Relatively recently at 18/19years old I became obsessed with becoming muscular and look a certain way. This made me become quite lonely, unfulfilled and upset. I released something had to change and I needed to pursue long-lasting actual health rather than focus on looking a certain way.
  • This fuelled a change in my career direction as well. I entered the nutrition field obsessed with food and using it to change mine and others’ bodies. However, after realising this was toxic, I shifted into the eating disorder space which is where I am now.

 

Kiah: Thanks for sharing your story, it’s such an important one to share. We know that in the midst of an eating disorder, listening to someone who has gone through it and come out the other side can be very powerful to show that recovery is possible.

 

Meg: It is very important for us to have a male on the podcast with a lived experience of an eating disorder as it is very  underrepresented.

 

 

Question 3: What do you think are the factors that might have the biggest impact on men’s body image?

Alex: In society eating disorders often have a common presentation – the thin white woman. However, this takes away from so many other presentations such as males. Men’s body image is frequently under-represented. 

  • I personally was so desperate to achieve the perfect male body ideal to the point where I was afraid I wasn’t going to achieve it.
  • This ideal is commonly presented to us in the media as tanned with muscle definition. It is often equated with being attractive, successful, powerful and socially desirable and makes men feel like it is what they need to achieve to be worthwhile.
  • Then if, as I did, you also have other risk factors such as low self-esteem, anxiety and obsession, it can be easy to fall victim to these ideals and go on to experience disordered eating.
  • Another important thing to mention is that men face many more barriers to recovery. Men are often shamed for speaking about their feelings (the ‘boys don’t cry’ mentality). In the eating disorder space specifically:
    • a) men aren’t expected to have eating disorders so don’t feel like they deserve to speak about it and
    • b) men may feel too scared to speak up due to the fear of being shamed
  • These two factors get in the way of men speaking up about their disordered eating as well as minimising the severity of their symptoms which only acts to perpetuate the eating disorder.

 

Question 4: What do you think we can do to change that?

Alex: There’s so many platforms such as social media, movies and TV, to diversify male images of what it means to be attractive and a man. In the healthcare space there needs to be more awareness around eating disorders not having a common look/presentation. It is more about the psychological presentation and behaviours than the physical.

Something we are starting to see more of is males coming forward and placed in the spotlight to speak about their feelings and encouraging other men to do so as well.  

 

Meg: It’s really great to see you using your own platform on Instagram to do that as well.

 

Question 5: What are some of the red flags to look out for if they think a male in their life is struggling with their relationship with food

Alex: Some of the main ones that present across most presentations are:

  • A pre-occupation with food, eating and/or dieting. Have they recently changed the way they eat, started talking about food all the time or afraid to eat certain things?
  • Excessive exercise. This tends to be common in male presentations where they are trying to be a certain body shape/size. If they are spending most of their time exercising – especially if they are skipping social occasions to do so or training when sick/injured.
  • Also look out for sudden changes in mood or if they have started isolating themselves a lot more recently. Constant anxiety/fatigue is also common.
  • If you approach them about this and they start to minimise it or push away help – e.g. “no I’m just trying to eat more healthily” that can also be a red flag

 

Meg: on that note, what is the best way to go about approaching a conversation with a male you are concerned about?

 

Alex: Great question:

  • Firstly, in the back of your mind, you need to consider that it is likely they may not what to speak about it or are unsure how to.
  • The next step is to do some background research on eating disorders in men to give yourself some understanding.
  • Before straight away targeting their food/exercise behaviours, just ask how they are doing. Mentioned what you have noticed whether its that they have seemed more anxious than usual or have been skipping social engagements and ask if there is anything you can do to help. Try and be more general and come from a supportive angle rather than saying their behaviours are wrong.
    • If they start to become defensive and put a wall up then take a step back for a week or two and watch from a distance. Then re-evaluate.
    • If they do start to open up then this a good opportunity to ask what you can do to help.

 

Meg: How would you recommend someone find out more about eating disorders?

 

Alex:

  • Number one place is the Butterfly Foundation which is an awesome one-stop for info. They have a chat box as well as a call line plus a wealth of resources and links
  • If you are in QLD or Vic then there is Eating Disorders Queensland/Victoria are both great charity organisations similar to Butterfly but more state based.
  • Inside Out Institute is also great.
  • There are also some great social media accounts promoting eating disorder recovery/awareness and body neutrality.

 

Kiah: We will link these in the show notes.

 

 

Question 6: For anyone (of any gender), what would be your top tips for succeeding in recovery from an eating disorder?

Alex:

  • Number one – intrinsic motivators are much more important than extrinsic motivators.
    • Intrinsic motivators are things on the inside that are important to you. E.g. “I want to recover to be able to achieve x or because x is more important to me”
    • Extrinsic motivators would be “I am doing this for x person”.
  • Secondly, learn how to talk back to your eating disorder rather than fighting it. This is something that Caroline Costin (US eating disorder clinician and pioneer in the space with her own lived experience) talks about a lot. Talking to it in a compassionate but firm way can help acknowledge that it has done something for you in the past, but it is no longer serving you now. Getting angry at it, particularly in early stages, can feel like you are being critical of yourself.
    • For example, you go to a café and order a lunch. If your eating disorder then pops into your ear and tries to tell you critical reasons why you shouldn’t eat it. Act by telling yourself that you deserve to eat it because you enjoy it and there is more to food than its macros. You don’t need to have done x amount of exercise to eat something. I am going to eat this today to enjoy myself and nourish my body.
  • Thirdly, stop seeking full recovery and instead focus on taking one step at a time. Often people with eating disorders have perfectionistic qualities however recovery takes time and patience. Just focus on one step at a time and overtime the eating disorder becomes quieter.
  • Fourthly, reach out to others rather than your eating disorder. Often eating disorders are used as a coping mechanism however it isn’t a sustainable mechanism.
  • Finally, surround yourself with people who value you for who you are and share similar core values. Rather than people only interested in you for superficial reasons such as your looks.  

 

Finally, how can we find you?

  • Instagram: @arod_dietitian

 

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS
 

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