A common misunderstanding is that disordered eating only affects women, but the pressures to ‘look’ or ‘perform’ a certain way are just as likely to affect men. We are so grateful to Ari for sharing his difficult journey with us in order to raise awareness around this issue, and to give hope to other boys or men who might be in a similar situation and in need of support…
From bodybuilding to body-loving: My struggle through, and recovery from, Binge-Eating Disorder
TW: Numbers, ED behaviors
When I was 17, I competed in my first bodybuilding show. I worked my way down to a pretty low energy intake pretty early on in the process, and for the last 5-6 weeks of prep, (which was an 18 week ordeal), my life had become completely consumed by restriction and over- exercising. I was eating only “clean” foods at certain hours, a schedule I wouldn’t let anything else get in the way of (including friends and family). I was doing way too much cardio, I was using absurd amounts of stimulants to muster up just enough energy to not pass out in class, I obsessed over my weigh-ins and letting numbers on a scale turn into emotional events, and I had successfully isolated myself completely.
My sex drive, energy, and mood for the last 5 weeks were all in the tank. To put it one way, I was not a pleasant person to be around. But the worst part was the hunger. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced, and yet the thought of “letting” myself eat was almost equally disgusting to me. In class, I would scroll through pictures of “food porn” and write lists of foods I’d binge on and in what order after the show.
I used to watch classmates eating and become sincerely angry. I would sometimes, after a long and emotional day, sneak into the pantry and “pig out” on literally one squeeze of honey, which would freak me out and cause me to compensate with an impromptu cardio session.
THE SHOW AND THE AFTERMATH
Immediately after stepping off stage at my show, I began eating. It started with some “fit pizzas” one of the booths at the venue was offering. We then hit a Hardee’s, where I got one of the “monster” double quarter pounder burgers, cheesy fries, and a large soda. On the way back to the hotel, I distinctly remember virtually inhaling these cheesy fries and beginning to feel the most unnerving of sensations: my stomach was pleading for me to stop while my brain was yelling at me to keep eating. The mismatch between my biological satiety cues and brain-derived reward and taste demands was a scary feeling to have, as I was constantly unsure of which excruciating sensation to respond to.
Back at the hotel, I began binge-eating all the foods I had stocked up on for this purpose. This included Oreos, Reese’s pieces, a half-gallon of chocolate milk, marshmallow peeps, peanut butter, protein bars, Fiber One brownies, moon pies, Gatorade, and more. As I continued to shovel this food into my mouth, my fullness turned into unbearable physical pain. I was incredibly nauseous and tried to sleep it off. But about two hours of sleep later, I was up and immediately began craving these foods again, so what did I do? Eat. And eat. And keep eating.
The night carried on like this: eating until I was in too much pain to keep going, trying to sleep, waking up to keep eating, etc. By the time the morning rolled around, I was binge eating all of the free breakfast I could get. We then stopped at a pizza place before heading back home, where I proceeded to eat an entire pan pizza. This pattern persisted for a week straight. I was more depressed than I’d ever been at any point in my life prior.
HOW LOOKING AT MYSELF IN A HOTEL MIRROR CHANGED MY ENTIRE LIFE
Exactly one week after the show, I was getting out of the shower and saw myself in the full-length mirror in the bathroom. Though I had been taking “progress photos” of myself habitually since starting prep, and therefore had technically seen myself shirtless quite a few times after starting this binge, this was the first time I really saw myself and how “bad” I’d let things get. I had devoted 18 weeks of my life to extreme obsession centered around getting as lean as humanly possible, which involved cutting off friends and alienating family, letting myself fall into deep pits of depression, abusing stimulants, hours and hours and hours of cardio, and constant restriction. And so seeing myself literally right back to where I was when I started was difficult to swallow.
I distinctly remember this moment, almost six years ago now, as I started sobbing profusely and could think of nothing to do other than go to bed and hope the pain could go away. I felt trapped and alone and like I’d never be able to express these worries to anyone.
My recovery was not a formal, nor linear, process. In fact, I competed one more time, 3 years later, and went through a similar ordeal. But over time I was able to get to the point where I’m at now: no longer valuing myself based on how much I weigh, how much food I ate today, or even how well my workout went.
Since I hadn’t even understood that what I went through was an eating disorder, the approaches I used that got me to this point were hardly the typical “ED recovery” techniques. Nonetheless, I learned that some general principles and practices were essential for my growth towards true intuitive eating and unconditional love of my body. These included a period of fundamental self-discovery, mindfulness meditation, learning to mindfully eat, improving my ability to see the bigger picture, focusing more on self- compassion than ‘self-improvement’, and some other various elements (all of which guided the instructions I give in my book on ED recovery, 100 Days of Food Freedom).
And so that is why I’m here, writing this story. Whilst the diet industry grows more and more, and cons people who just want to love the bodies they’re in out of their money and out of their sense of security, there is a void in the nutrition field that needs to be filled. Food freedom means not defining ourselves by how “good” we did today in terms of diet or exercise, and it means not letting the scale control our lives. More accurately, food freedom involves loving the eating experience, separating our thoughts and emotions from our actions and beliefs, and ultimately treating our bodies with the respect they deserve.
Ari Snaevarsson is a nutrition coach who works primarily with clients who suffer from disordered eating patterns. He also works as a counselor, dietetic technician, and on-call facilities manager at a residential eating disorder treatment center. In both capacities, he helps clients develop positive relationships with food and their bodies. His book, 100 Days of Food Freedom: A Day-by-Day Journey to Self-Discover, Freedom from Dieting, and Recovery From Your Eating Disorder, outlines a simple, day-by-day process to recovery from one’s eating disorder.
Ari’s website: www.100doff.com
Follow him on Instagram: @100daysoffoodfreedom
and Facebook: www.facebook.com/100doff/