Since The Lean Berets spend an awful lot of time addressing obesity epidemics and weight loss, I decided to go a little different direction with this post. I think it’s about time to get something off my chest that I’ve been meaning to talk about for quite some time now. For those of you who know me personally, you are well aware that I am very focused, serious and dialed in when it comes to exercise. I have not missed a daily workout in well over five years. What you may not know is I went through a very tough period where I suffered from a major eating disorder. Although this lifestyle pattern is often associated with females, it happens to males as well, and perhaps more often than you think. According to the National Association for Males with Eating Disorders (NAMED), most cases of males with eating disorders are either misdiagnosed or under reported. It’s also speculated that males do not accept the idea of having an eating disorder because it is most often associated with women. I am definitely guilty of that.
I can trace the start of my dark journey all the way back to childhood, but the signs and symptoms started to become most prominent the summer of 2002 when I used to live in Northeast, PA. Up to this point in my life, my main objective had always been to get as big as I possibly can and become a professional wrestler. Yes, I know wrestling’s fake and all that, but I have been a fan ever since my eyes focused, and the idea of gracing a ring, talking on the mic and getting paid to entertain people really struck a chord with me. After one failed attempt after the next to become big enough to even have a shot at wrestling fame, the realization hit that I was fighting a losing battle. Then during a business trip to Seattle, WA in June of ’02, I accidentally stepped into a modeling company while meandering the streets and got hit with clarity. It was determined by one of the agents that I had the build of a fitness model–lean, muscular and tall. All of a sudden, instead of trying to “bulk up,” I shifted my attention to “getting lean.” At least, that’s how I saw it in my eyes. Little did I know that I was laying the groundwork for a long, hard road ahead. Even though I weighed 186 lbs, the agent said the ideal weight for a fitness model was 175 to 185 lbs. Being on the higher end of the “ideal range” was not good enough for me. My mind was set on 175!
And so it began. I spent the next two months whittling myself down to 175 lbs. It occurred to me at that point that I felt pretty good mentally and physically, then for some strange reason, I chose to keep going. All of a sudden, I came up with this game plan of getting as “lean” as I could until the end of summer. Then once fall hit, I would try to bulk up as much as I could. My reasoning was the additional poundage would keep my body nice and warm during the winter months. It sounded like a foolproof plan on paper, and it seemed to work out just fine.
By the end of September, 2002, I weighed in at 166 lbs. Yes, I remember the exact number. Once October hit, true to my word, I cut my cardio way down and starting eating a lot more calories. Through the winter I was able to go all the way up to 188 lbs. I was convinced I had plenty of excess to work on melting off through the forthcoming summer. Unlike the summer before when I was just winging it, I actually made a goal this time around. I wanted to get down to 165 by the end of August, since this was 1 lb less than last year’s lowest weight. If I could make it there, I’d feel a sense of accomplishment.
At the time, there was absolutely nothing wrong with what I was doing in my mind. I figured bodybuilders, mixed martial artists, boxers and numerous other elite athletes had to gain and lose weight on a regular basis. By setting a goal and following a strict regimen, I could always stay motivated to keep going. Little did I know I was in the early stages of a severe eating disorder. Literally the next five years consisted of this bulking and cutting phase every several months. What started out as a simple little pass time became a full-out addiction and obsession. I would keep trying to beat my old weight and was successful each and every year. This all came to a head at the end of the summer in 2008. I had been living in Park City, UT, and standing 6’3,” got all the way down to 145 lbs. Every morning I would get to the gym at 4:40 am before it even opened and did a high-intensity 90-minute workout. Immediately following, I’d train three clients, fly home, get on my bike and ride as hard as I could for at least 2 1/2 hours. By the end of each day, I’d come home and go on a calorie-counting website and input data to see how many calories I burned. My passion had shifted from becoming an internationally known fitness guru to burning more calories than I consumed every single day. I had it down to a science. I would consume about 1,400 calories while burning 1,600. For the amount of exercise I was doing at that time in conjunction with my racing metabolism, I should have been eating easily 5,000 calories a day.
After coming into the gym in late August of that year, I walked up to my close friend Alison who worked there and excitedly told her the good news… I had gotten down to 145 lbs. and was now going to get to 140! She glared at me with her arms folded and a disgusted look on her face and said, “YOU are obsessed and you need help!” I would have nothing to do with that thought and was insulted. All I could come back with was, “You have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m in the best shape of my life!” This was at the pinnacle of my disorder and a telltale sign that I had a disorder. Much like an alcoholic, you are not in your right mind and are in complete denial. The last thing I wanted to hear was that I had an eating or image disorder, but I’m here to tell you I did. And it was very severe.
Once you sink to the depths I’ve been and get your body fat percentage very low, bad things start to happen. One of which is your failure to attend public functions. Friends would invite me out to eat or have a drink or go to the movies or even a picnic, and I would find a reason not to go. Why? Because of this little thing called guilt. Just thinking of “going up Main St.” and having one sip of beer made me go into panic mode and I’d start feeling guilty. I didn’t want to risk losing what I had worked so hard to get over the past several months. I also had very secretive eating habits. I wouldn’t eat in front of people, I’d hide from my roommates at home, and would super dissect every ingredient label and Nutrition Facts panel of every item of food I would see. I do that now as part of the Firing Squads, but it’s for legit reasons this time around. Back then, I needed to know the calories, servings and fat content of every morsel of food I ate, and how much exercise it would take to burn it off. This is the stage in the game where I was 100 percent out of control. To make matters worse, I also needed to know the calories, servings and fat content of everyone’s food around me AND how much exercise it would take to burn it off. I would just sit there and make all kinds of calculations in my head. These signs pointed in the direction of a specific type of eating disorder called orthorexia. In September of 2002, I could have been the poster child for this condition.
From a physical standpoint, my body was ripped to shreds, but it literally consisted of nothing but muscle, bones and skin. Ironically enough, I kept on pinching my side, telling people I had to get rid of this hideous fat. The only thing I was pinching was flesh and they all looked at me like I was insane. Well, once your body fat percentage dips to extremely low levels, you DO start to go insane, and here’s why. The brain is highly composed of fat. When your available fat in outlying areas of your body is not there, the fat around your brain starts to get used up for energy. The end result is constant mood swings, anxiety and a battery of other emotional challenges. The slightest, most irrelevant things touched me off, such as dropping a pencil on the floor or having to sit at a traffic light for more than five seconds. I would equivocate this to “roid rage.” This condition occurs when your hormones get all jacked up from pumping steroids into your body and you throw tantrums for next to no reason. In my case, I was suffering from a double whammy–my brain was getting decomposed AND my hormones were jacked up.
Ultimately, I chose to pack up shop and head back east. I figured I would take a shot at the big-time in NYC. That was a great idea considering we were currently going through the biggest economic downturn in nearly 80 years. This is where my impaired judgment came into play. I figured NYC had a zillion people and I could walk right in there and make a ton of money as a fitness professional. Perhaps if I was in my right mind and already had a ton of money to live off for a while, my plan would have worked. But that wasn’t to be the case. I had slumped into such a place of financial, spiritual, emotional and physical ruins that I almost didn’t make it out.
Things came full circle when I would send emails and text messages to RJ and friends on a daily basis, wishing that I would get hit by a bus or shot by a gang member. It wasn’t like I was suicidal and wanting to throw myself in front of the bus, but I honestly gave up on life and could care less if I was alive or dead. Then it all changed. After getting an online position as a health and fitness writer, I harvested an article to write about eating disorders. Since they had strict guidelines, I needed to do thorough research and cite professional resources throughout. After spending time on several different websites reading about eating disorders, it had finally occurred to me that all my friends and family members were right. I fell into multiple disordered eating categories and was wasting away more and more each day. One thing that we pride ourselves in as Lean Berets is practicing what we preach and not being hypocrites. When I got the article accepted and it got sent out to cyber space, it had occurred to me that I was a BIG hypocrite. Here I was telling people what to do if they have an eating disorder and how to find help, and I was one of them! I also had about 90 percent of the symptoms of someone with a severe eating disorder and found out that your organs start shutting down without notice when you lose too much weight. This was a huge wake up call that started me down the road of recovery.
Fast forward four-plus years later, and I slowly, gradually pulled myself out of the rut I was in with the help of some very key players in my life. I’ve since gained 47 pounds and feel better than ever. But I’m here to tell you, not one second of my rebound was easy. It literally took me a full year and a relocation back to my home town in Pennsylvania to get back on track. And after doing further research, it’s a miracle I did this without professional help. I’ve heard many stories of people with less severe cases needing to be put in clinics to help them get through. I figured I got myself into this mess and I’ll get myself out. Slowly but surely, I started to increase my caloric intake and my weight started going up. Simultaneously, I felt better mentally–my mood swings evaporated, my concentration came back and my depression faded away. And perhaps most important, I felt a lot better about the way I looked. When you have an eating disorder, accepting yourself as you are is the biggest hurdle you will ever have to overcome.
The take home message is, eating disorders are very real and should be taken very seriously. Not only do they affect you, but also everyone you are in contact with on a daily basis. This may sound cliche, but never feel ashamed to admit you have a problem and always accept yourself as you are. The general public is more concerned about what they look like instead of what you look like.