Houston’s Green Recovery Story: An Evolving Triumph Over Anorexia and Compulsive Exercise (and a Male Perspective).

by Gena on October 25, 2012

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a young man named Houston. In it, he said,

I love your blog and ever since I read the first green recovery story I have wanted to write my own. My Veganism is still evolving and I am still recovering from my disordered eating, but I feel that reading your blog has given me a new perspective on life and has played an integral part in healing my relationship with food and myself. You don’t have to use it, but I wanted to get my story out there since I know that there are other males who have struggled with disordered thinking and could find some hope that life is about more than athletic performance.

I quickly sat down to read Houston’s story of recovery-in-progress, and it brought tears to my eyes. I was touched not only by the maturity with which he’s embracing recovery, but also with his candor and hope. I hope you’ll all take the time to read his story, and join me in commending him on his courage.

Hello, my name is Houston and I am a recovering anorexic/compulsive exerciser. Before my disordered eating habits formed I was a normal, active kid. I played sports and enjoyed food like any other kid. I ate anything and everything. Meal times, snack time, and food in general was something I looked forward to and enjoyed immensely.

My relationship with food started to change when I got into high school. When I was 16, my dad had a health scare and we all began to eat a healthier diet with more whole grains and less processed foods. At first this was great because I started to feel better and I had more energy to play sports. My interest in nutrition grew and I began to do research about different diets and learned about calories. For some reason I decided that I needed to lose some weight to become a better athlete.

I was not a large kid. In fact, I was one of the slimmer and more athletically built kids, but the idea that losing weight would make me a better athlete seemed reasonable to me, and since I am such a goal oriented person I set off to lose some “extra” weight. I started to weigh myself every day and cut out candy and seconds at the dinner table. It wasn’t long before I began to lose weight. It dropped off very quickly and I was ecstatic. I restricted my diet even more by cutting out all extra fats and sugars that I deemed excessive. My diet was quickly becoming an eating disorder, but I did not see this at the time.

I began to withdraw from my family and friends and was pushing everyone in my life that loved and cared about me away. I shunned my friends at school, I shut myself in my room at home, and food was now an enemy and a source of daily stress. I began counting calories and meticulously controlling every tiny bit of food that would go in my body. The extra energy that I felt when I started to eat healthier had left me and I was now constantly fatigued. I could no longer run when I was at soccer practice and even walking around school was an arduous task. Everyday life became hard and I just withdrew into myself even further.

At this point my parents began to worry because they would see me on the soccer field walking and wonder to themselves, “What is wrong with him? He isn’t running.” They took me to the doctor and he told me that I needed to put some weight on. I said okay, but those were just hollow words that didn’t mean anything. I continued to meticulous control my food and remain at this low weight for the rest of high school. During the end of my senior year (distraught and disgusted with soccer) I began to ride my bike again (I used to ride all the time with my father, but then stopped with it became “uncool”). This started out as a good thing for me because I began to eat more and started to feel a bit happier with myself, but pretty soon it just became another outlet for my disorder.

I began to ride more and more. I would eat what seemed like a lot of food to my parents, but in reality I was not eating near enough for the amount of riding that I was doing. My weight began to drop again. Now, instead of restricting my intake I was purging my body by excessive exercise. This process lasted until just a few months ago.

Then, something inside of me changed. One summer afternoon, I looked around me and saw all the people at my university laughing and smiling and enjoying the sunshine with their friends. Then I looked at myself, all alone with no one to talk to, and realized that this was no way to live. Life should be enjoyed and spent having fun with friends and family rather than worrying about what my next meal was going to be and whether or not it would be “healthy” or not. This was my epiphany moment the thing that facilitated the change I am currently going through.

About this time I began doing some research into Veganism and I found this website. I was intrigued by the idea that food was not fuel (which is how I thought about food since I was still exercising excessively), but rather nutrition and a way to nourish your body. I embraced this idea and went Vegan overnight.

I have been Vegan for over 4 months now and my relationship with food is healing. Food is no longer bland, tasteless substances entering my body just to fuel my compulsive exercising. I now enjoy my meals and make them taste delicious using pant-based ingredients. I no longer look at riding my bike as a way to purge my body of calories. Instead, I experience the joy that I used to get, before my disorder, by feeling the sun on my skin and the wind rush through my hair. The fatigue and niggling injuries that have plagued me for the past four years improved soon after I went Vegan. My depression lifted and I began to break down the walls that kept people at such a distance from me.

I feel that going Vegan has given me a new outlook on life and is healing my body and mind from the inside out. Food is no longer the evil that it was during my disordered eating days. Now it is nourishment for my body and energy to experience life and live it to the fullest. Before I was an emotionless shell void of the most basic and fundamental emotions. Now I am finding happiness each-and-everyday. Whether that is from something as simple as watching the sunrise or eating a really good apple; something always happens that makes me smile. I am still in the process of recovering, but with everyday life becomes a little brighter.

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Thank you, Houston, for sharing.

I (and I’m sure many of you) could relate to so much of Houston’s story: the effort to eat healthy that turned into a full blown obsession with rooting out all sugar, fat, and calories; the exercise compulsion; the moment when you walk around observing people who aren’t shut up at home, thinking about exercise and food, and think: when did I lose touch with all of this?

I was also really interested to have the perspective of a young man on disordered eating. We all know that eating disorders affect both men and women—an estimated 10-15% of people with EDs are men, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry—but it often seems to me that women are slightly more comfortable discussing their struggles. Houston’s story is our first Green Recovery story from the male perspective, but I’m certainly hoping it won’t be our last. If you are a man and would like to submit a Green Recovery post, please do, and remember that I can always keep your name anonymous if you’d like.

On that note, I want to hear from you guys! And I wish you all a great day.

xo

Soccer ball image courtesy of MaxiNews, UK.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura C October 25, 2012 at 2:54 pm

What a great story, Houston! Congratulations and best wishes on your continued recovery and enjoyment of life! I was interested that you didn’t talk much about motivations regarding how your body looked or felt as much as your athletic performance. To me that suggests that the obsession and addiction is primary, and the stories we tell ourselves are secondary (even if they get the obsession and addiction going). And, I’m guessing, the idea of control and “success.” I am curious whether you had parts of your life that you felt unsuccessful in, that the ED might have substituted for.

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Laura C October 25, 2012 at 3:35 pm

PS that’s really a rhetorical question. I’m just always curious how these things get going.

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Houston October 25, 2012 at 3:40 pm

That’s an interesting idea. The only things I can think of that might relate were the only close relationships I had ended in disaster and turmoil. I was really successful in school and most things in my life were good, but my social life was lacking a bit (which I think is one of the reason I withdrew so drastically).

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Alexia @ NamasteYoga October 25, 2012 at 3:13 pm

wow this is such a wonderful story! somehow us girls we keep believing thats its just us that have problems with our looks and bodies but its everyone… we are all struggling to find to ourselves and have to learn and grow. such an inspiration!

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zosia October 25, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Houston, you are such a brave person for getting your story out there like this. I wish you well on your journey to recovery.

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Lauren @ The Homeostatic Mindset October 25, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Thank you so much for sharing your story, Houston. I am so glad that you are on the path to LIVING life to the fullest!!! :) I’m glad you found Gena’s blog and this supportive community!

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Marissa October 25, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Thank you so much for sharing Houston! Congratulations on beginning your recovery and on going vegan! I’m so glad you’ve added your story to this series and shared your insights and perspective–they make such a valuable addition to the recovery stories here!

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Nicole October 25, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Such a great story, very uplifting! It is so nice to hear a guy’s testimony on food. Thank you Houston! Enjoy plant eating, friend :)

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Abby October 25, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Male, female, young, old. It doesn’t matter, as the bars on the prision are the same either way. As Gena noted, I can also relate to this entirely too much and thank you for sharing your story and your journey. It’s day to day for us all, and every day you make the next healthy choice–and share your struggles and successes–is living, not just existing. (At least that’s what I tell myself.) ;)

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Lia October 25, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Thanks for sharing Houston! My ex boyfriend went through almost exactly the same, but running instead of biking and more heavily on the overexercising and less restricting of food. I’m really glad you had that moment watching everyone enjoying life to help wake you up. Those are the important turning points in our lives. Keep enjoying life and food! One step at a time!

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Zoe October 25, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Hi Houston, I hope you continue to recover and find a better balance between food and exercise Vs the nutrition and energy your body requires. I have been reading Gena’s blog for about a year now and I find it very inspirational. For different reasons to yours though. I have an ED but mine is over-eating. So I read Gena’s blog for healthy and slimming recipes. I still have a long way to go and it is interesting we meet here. I wish you all the very best in your journey to health and happiness. Thank you Gena for the great recipe ideas.

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Gena October 25, 2012 at 10:01 pm

I love to hear that men and women with different expressions of disordered eating (be it binge eating, overeating, or undereating) can connect and share their stories here at CR. I’m glad to hear it is of comfort to you!

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Janae @ Bring Joy October 25, 2012 at 9:02 pm

I’m impressed with the candor & honesty in which you shared your story, Houston. Thank you.

I am so glad you spoke up. Eating disorders know no gender, race, or social class. I hope more men would feel open about sharing their struggles with ED’s. Hopefully other males, like you, will read your story & know there’s hope.

Thank you Gena & Houston for sharing. Very inspiring, indeed.

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Josh October 25, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Thanks so much, Houston. I’ve been battling anorexia and bulimia for the past 12 years (I’m 23) and we are so underrepresented when it comes to eating disorders. Thank you for your openness, honesty, and inspiration.

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Gena October 25, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Thanks for the comment, Josh. Stay tough in your fight for recovery, and know that this whole community is supporting you.

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Michele October 25, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Inspiring story, thank you both for sharing. In doing so you helped shatter the stereotypes that hold us all back, like that eating disorders are just for girls.

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Lou October 25, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Best wishes to you, Houston – thank you so much for sharing your story…. I think females tend to get the most attention when it comes to EDs; it is so important you are getting your story out there. I’m sure that there are a lot of BOTH men + women who will benefit from reading this.

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Lisa @ The Raw Serenity October 26, 2012 at 12:54 am

Thank you so much for your perspective Houston!
There isn’t much media coverage about males having anorexia which is so wrong because more and more males for suffering from this life threatening illness.
I do see a like a lot of men having disorders when trying to get bigger and going over board with steroids ect
Thanks again x

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Ela October 26, 2012 at 1:04 am

I’m delighted for you and inspired that you posted this. Aside from your epiphany about the kind of life you want to have, your differentiation between FUEL and NUTRITION is incredibly important. I’ve never heard it put quite that way before and I’m certainly going to go away and think more about that concept.

Also, “make them taste delicious using pant-based ingredients” might be the cutest typo I’ve ever seen. It’s going to stay with me and make me smile tonight :)

I wonder how much of your disorder was rooted in your dad’s health scare? And whether doing things with your dad again, like maybe riding bikes together in a non-purging way, will be part of the healing process?

With much admiration,
Ela

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Kathy October 26, 2012 at 6:08 am

I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder, but I was definitely a disordered eater. Last summer, I lost a bunch of weight and my family began to tell me I looked too skinny. Then the holidays came and I put a bunch of weight back on. I have good days and bad days when it comes to disordered eating, but I am constantly working towards living a healthier lifestyle. Afterall, I am going to be a registered dietitian soon and want to specialize in holistic health and eating disorders to help more people into healthy lives.

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hannah October 26, 2012 at 8:34 am

I thought I would post this link to this UK-based organisation ‘Men Get Eating Disorders Too’ here in case it can offer support to any male readers (or female):

http://mengetedstoo.co.uk/

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Kasandra Bracken October 26, 2012 at 9:15 am

Wow, maturity is right! It’s amazing how you were able to have an epiphany so clearly and make the change. You are strong! Keep it up, Houston!

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Alex @ Raw Recovery October 26, 2012 at 9:25 am

Houston, I don’t know you but I am really proud of you for sharing your story here! Only one out of the several treatment centers I went to for my own eating disorder accepted men, and what I found really interesting was that their stories were not that different from my own. What really stuck out in your story was the part about your epiphany and realizing that your eating disorder wasn’t bringing you the life you wanted. When I look back at my own college years and when I was the sickest (right before I had to leave school and go to an inpatient center), I remember how miserable I was spending Friday nights alone (my boyfriend at the time lived in a different state and paid little attention to me) and despite the requests of my friends, I didn’t want to go out to parties, or dinner, or anywhere that might have food because I’d be too tempted to eat, so I stayed home and starved myself instead. It really is no way to live because an eating disorder takes all your energy and time that could be devoted to developing and fostering good relationships with great people. May all of us who suffer with this remember that we’re worth fighting for!!

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Tina October 26, 2012 at 10:40 am

Congratulations Houston. Thank you for being a light of hope for all of us struggling w/ food in one way or another. Keep up the good work :)

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Michelle@HappyHeart November 1, 2012 at 8:19 am

Really inspiring story! Great to hear it all from a males perspective, people speaking out will help breakdown the stereotypes.

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