It can be difficult to understand why anyone would repeatedly engage in a behavior that is ultimately harmful, but it’s important to know that eating and exercise disorders are foremost, an attempt at a solution.
And in a culture that glorifies body types radically at odds with physiological health, and that normalizes extremes of behavior with eating and exercise, it can be difficult for someone with a disorder to believe that he has a problem with food, exercise, or shape. This struggle is even worse for men, because they aren’t “supposed” to be vulnerable to these issues. Even if a man is able to acknowledge some personal concern, the fear of losing what might feel like his primary source of identity or self-esteem is often powerful enough to make a him want to defend or preserve this way of coping.
Dan Reiff, MPH RD, and co-author of Eating Disorders: Nutrition Therapy in the Recovery Process, uses an analogy he calls “The Helicopter Story.” In it, he likens the ambivalence of someone considering eating disorder recovery to a person, unable to swim, who has been stranded in the middle of the ocean with only a life-jacket to keep him afloat. Rescue by helicopter will prevent him from ultimately drowning or dying of hypothermia, but the helicopter team tells the swimmer that he will need to give up his life-jacket in order to be pulled on board. It’s a daunting prospect, and it’s also the reason why men with eating disorders need time and lots of expert support in order to give up their behaviors and recover completely.