Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Type 2 anorexia – my experience

This week's guest post is by a young person living in Mid Powys.

Perfectionistic, body dysmorphic, obsessive and depressive are accurate words to describe anorexia. Six months in a psychiatric hospital suffering from the disease has proved this beyond question. However, the experience also revealed to me two different manifestations of the disease - characterised by varying degrees of the traits above:

Type 1, where the sufferer has a severely distorted view of their body and therefore exercises and starves themselves in the pursuit of looking ‘normal’. This is what most people perceive anorexia to be about, but I (and others in hospital) didn’t identify fully with this and hence believe there’s a second type. 

Type 2, where an obsessive routine of eating and exercise develops in order to avoid irrational consequences despite perceiving oneself as normal (perhaps slightly overweight). Here, the consequences could revolve around any aspect of your life but mainly around weight gain where the goal is to be thin - better than normal. Hence, those who identify with the second type are likely more perfectionist, academic and hardworking. However, they’re probably more at risk (due to these underlying personality traits) as it’s probably more dangerous to act on self-perfection than on self-perception.

The obsessive, perfectionistic roots of type 2 affect many aspects of the disease making it clearly distinguishable from type 1. In type 2, food itself isn’t an issue, the calories are (hence half the hospital chose to have liquid supplements and the other half had food despite being equal in calorific intake). Exercise is also more of an issue in type 2 than type 1 as it becomes built into a rigid routine and must be done to relieve anxiety (as opposed to accelerate weight loss). Type 2 anorexics are also more likely to be deceptive and compete with other sufferers to be perfect in other people’s eyes rather than just in their own to become the ‘best’ anorexic they can be. In this respect access to online material and social media create a competitiveness which likely makes many people’s condition worse. Finally, in type 2, anorexia cannot be separated as an entity from the sufferer (hence getting to draw/name it isn’t effective despite working well for type 1 anorexics). This is because for them the disease takes advantage of their personality traits and becomes an extension of them.

We should use our understanding of each type of anorexia to personalise the otherwise universal treatment plans. Personalised medicine is a hot topic in modern medicine. Gene sequencing and editing has allowed us to choose the treatments which we know will work best on patients. Why not extend this to anorexia?

Of course, the line between the two groups is blurred, but there are many instances where placing me into one of these groups would’ve helped mine and other sufferers’ recovery. Catching it early will inevitably reduce the likelihood of the disease worsening but recognising when further intervention (from Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services to psychiatric hospitals) is necessary is just as important. Taking away the choice by involving professionals is often the only way people too far into the disease can recover and increase their weight enough to correct the depression and distorted thinking associated with anorexia. 

Also, the incentives for recovery are blocked by body image or compulsions for type 1 and 2 respectively. We could therefore target these blocks differently for each type. Classical conditioning is used to treat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and involves patients doing what it is that causes anxiety (or not doing it in the case of a ritual). After being in a better mentality to do so, I decided to try it. I went home over a weekend and didn’t sneak off and exercise at all. That weekend was the only time my weight dropped during my whole recovery. My anxieties were practically gone from this point onwards. 

Finally, the qualities associated with type 2 sufferers can be redirected from weight loss to something beneficial. For me, I became very academic which allowed me to preoccupy myself and give enough incentive to remain fully recovered. Incentive is the key to the cure. Access to mental health services is the key to prevention.

After sharing my thoughts on service provision I’d like to talk about what it’s like to have been a male anorexic. I imagine that you’ve pictured a female through reading this blog and hope that you’re somewhat surprised that the author, the sufferer, is male. I wasn’t at all surprised to be told I had anorexia - I knew about the disease and could tell things weren’t right especially after comments from almost everyone I knew expressing their concern. I have a female twin and understandably my mother has since admitted she was always conscious of the fact that she could become anorexic. These were probably unconscious thoughts felt by everyone around me - I wasn’t expected to become anorexic and hence I was allowed to get progressively worse without it crossing anyone’s mind. I’m sure that this allowed my mind set to change and my weight to drop enough that the anorexia had developed into something that couldn’t be solved without professional help.

Unfortunately, I was taken to the GP surgery twice and both times was told that my weight wasn’t low enough to cause major concern. I was, however, referred to CAMHS on the second occasion. To an anorexic this was like being told you’re not thin enough. Furthermore, the naivety of the doctors to accept all that I said (that I eat lunch and have snacks, only exercise every couple of days and am still sociable and happy) prevented them from assessing me on anything bar the weight-age percentile I was in.

As a boy my original motives were also different to those of girls. At 7 and a half stone, I was plump and had innocent comment from friends and family saying the same. I thought I should try and lose some weight and gain some muscle (as mentioned, the muscle gain I wanted was impossible for a 12 year old). I started with cutting out food and exercising more and liked the results so continued doing this to greater and greater extents. The weight loss and routine consumed me - I lost friends and my confidence, my work suffered, my hair began falling out, my skin flaked away, I was constantly cold and remember dreading the thought of standing or walking because of how faint they made me feel - this is certainly a mental and physical disease. 

Waiting almost a month for an appointment with CAMHS gave me the time to rapidly worsen. I was lucky to have an exceptional psychiatrist - the best of many I’ve had since. However, weekly appointments with her were of little benefit and my weight continued to drop. A paper cut in class one day caused me to faint and have a small seizure which prompted my removal from school and a two week bed rest. Another month of this saw little improvement - I didn’t want to get better. My family and I were becoming more and more depressed and with all of us finding life unbearable, I was taken to a psychiatric hospital where I was the only boy. 

By removing the choice of recovery, my weight rapidly gained and I began to see more clearly - food really is the ultimate medicine and choice is its antagonist. After six months I returned to school where everyone supported me through my last steps. It took almost a year of going at my own pace before simply wanting to be normal gave me the incentive to recover - I came off my meal plan, started socialising, working hard and enjoying life again. Once in the healthcare system being male didn’t affect anything, however - expect a man as you would a woman to develop an eating disorder and don’t shy away from talking to them about it. 

There’s a reason anorexia in males is becoming more common. Social media has recently become inundated with pictures and quotes encouraging men to love women with curves and promoting curves by redesigning children's characters (particularly Disney princesses and Barbie) to reflect more realistic figures. Unfortunately, there is no male equivalent. All I ever see are pictures of ripped and good-looking men, one even quoting “women like butts too”. This sends the message out that men must love overweight women but that men must have a knife-sharp jawline, a sculpted body and of course, a peachy bum to be considered equally attractive. Its reasons like this that Body Dysmorphic Disorder is becoming worryingly common especially in males. 

We need equality to favour all genders - encourage everyone to be happy with how they look as long it’s healthy. I’ve gained so much from my experiences and have helped many to overcome their problems but the horror of anorexia and how much of life it affects is only known by sufferers and their families. It’s not a route that social media should inadvertently encourage people to go down  - we’ve ensured this with women but I feel men are increasingly led along this path due to the lack of society expecting them to do so.

Postscript from our guest author:

On the last day of an eventful year, I need to say this. The expectation of men to be strong and brave - to be masculine - is quite literally killing people. It's this expectation that allowed me to fly under the radar when my mental health suffered and it's this expectation that has killed four silently suffering but definitely loved friends in the last month alone. We need to be so much more aware of the hurt that people around us are feeling and not hesitate to talk to them about it. It really can be just a few words, a quick check up or a smile that can break that depression and give someone reason to think about the future which is otherwise non existent in the mind of a depressive. Please, have a Happy New Year and make this your resolution so that in 2017, good people aren't hurt by their mental health.

Many thanks to our guest author for sharing his experiences of anorexia. There are several charities specialising in providing support for people with eating disorders. These include:

If you know of others, let us know in the comments box below.


  1. Fantastic blog post and very moving account. Thank you for sharing this experience and raising awareness of anorexia. Hopefully, as a society, we'll learn to stop judging people in terms of their body size and start accepting people whatever shape they are.

  2. Many thanks for this thought-provoking blog –this reminded me of my experience some time ago when I was a Counsellor in a men's prison. I was very struck by the number of men I saw who had difficulties with food. Most would not have had a diagnosis but food and the issues that eating, not eating, when and by whom food was prepared, who could see them eating etc. etc. was certainly difficult for the men and it led me to think that this is maybe a hidden issue for men. Thanks for raising this through this blog

  3. Thankyou both very much for your kind words. Clearly it seems male mental health has been something somewhat brushed under the carpet up until now. It's good to see the topic appearing more and more in the news and internet- challenging the stereotype of a man!