'It's not in the shadows any longer': New support for men with eating disorders
Wallis Snowdon
Jun 08, 2016

Trevor Schmidt began starving himself in his late 20s.

He would go days without touching food, ignoring hunger pangs until they became unbearable.

In a matter of weeks, he lost more than 20 pounds.

"There is a sense of control that you have when you limit yourself from eating, or punish yourself from eating too much," he said. "At various points in my life, it was the only thing I felt I had control over."

Schmidt is just one of the Edmonton men benefiting from a new support group by the Eating Disorder Support Network of Alberta (EDSNA).

The session is intended to help men struggling with body-image issues, and reduce the stigma for men suffering from disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.

"There is a lot of stigma and shame associated with any mental illness, and I think there is a common misconception out there that eating disorders only affect women," said Sue Huff, executive director of EDSNA.

"So, when men are struggling with this, they experience double levels of shame and stigma, and it's difficult to admit that it's happening and reach out for help."

Huff said eating disorders often manifest differently in men, making them harder to diagnose — leaving too many men to suffer in silence. The session is just a pilot, but Huff hopes to make it a permanent fixture at the clinic.

"Men may punish themselves in different ways, but at the end of the day it's a very dysfunctional relationship with food, and that's the same whether male or female," Huff said during an interview on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"We're hoping to reach the men, we know they're out there."
'I was losing my identity'

Though Schmidt's eating disorder didn't manifest itself until later, he thinks the seeds of his obsession began in early childhood.

"My parents were extremely healthy, before that was a 'thing,' and my father was involved in bodybuilding. And I think that caused a bit of a disturbance in psyche about body image," Schmidt said.

"I was also extremely small, and that became an identity for me. So as I got older, when my metabolism changed, and my body changed, it really struck a chord that I was losing my identity."

When he started gaining weight in his mid 20s, it came as a shock. Aloof comments from old friends, suggesting he'd put on a few pounds, felt like daggers.

"Of course, we've all put on weight over the last 25 years, but even now, it's like a knife in my big fat heart."

But even as his obsession began to overtake his life, it would be months before Schmidt recognized the disease for what it was, and got professional help.

"I don't like throwing up, so I just stopped eating," he said.

"My weight kept creeping up because I was starving and bingeing. One day, my mom asked me if I was 200 pounds, and I stood on a scale and realized I was 180 pounds. I was horrified."

Years after his diagnosis, he now maintains healthy weight and eating habits, but his obsession with food persists.

He hopes by sharing his story, other men will decide to face their illness.

"It's not in the shadows any longer. I hope people will be getting help for it."