Tuesday 2 August 2011

Rock-hard abs, yet without working out 24/7/365 to achieve it

One of the environmental factors that exacerbated our son's anorexia was the desire for a 'six pack' and the kind of rock-hard muscular body that would normally require working out 24/7/365. Although Ben enjoyed some exercise and was very sporty, he insists he was essentially lazy. So he found a 'clever' way of achieving his goal: by restricting his food intake.

Why did he want rock-hard abs and an impossibly muscular body? Because, for him, this 'look' would make him more popular - not just with the girls but with the other boys in his year group. OK, he had a very close-knit circle of friends, but to the rest of the year group these guys were a bit 'nerdy' and Ben wanted to shed his 'nerdy' image. This, despite having always been a shy, quiet, well-behaved boy, quite unlike the hugely confident, 'devil may care' boys in his year.

Also, Ben's academic 'rival' in his year group was a boy who was good at everything. This guy was top of every subject and played umpteen different sports extremely well. He was incredibly popular with the girls and, worse, he had the much coveted 'six-pack' which, apparently, this boy loved to show off to the girls (the mind boggles...).

Here's something I wrote at the time:

At the heart of this lies one boy. This boy is the cleverest boy in the year and now, it seems, the most popular, mainly with the girls. The image I get from what my son says is of this boy surrounded by crowds and crowds of adoring girls and boys. He's being hugged by dozens of girls while sending and receiving texts from others. He revels in this adoration and the boys and girls hang on to his every word. In fact the vision I have is so ridiculous that in other circumstances I'd just laugh!

Meanwhile my son fades into the background. Everyone ignores him, so he says. He doesn't get hugs. He doesn't get texts. And when he talks to this boy, this boy is often too busy sending and receiving texts from his adoring public to bother with my son.

Worse, this boy is muscular, with a '6 pack', according to my son.

Result = my shy, unconfident son feels that the ONLY way he can compete or equal this boy is to exercise and diet himself silly so he 'becomes' that boy, if you like... By doing this he will get similar adoration and 'be loved' (his words) by the girls and others. He says he 'just wants to be loved'. Of course transforming himself into this boy is an impossible task which is why the situation has got so bad.

My son is distraught. I have never seen anyone so distraught and it breaks my heart.

The desire for the 'perfect body' seems to be one of the major environmental drivers that can exacerbate eating disorders in men and boys. It doesn't 'cause' the eating disorder; experts now believe that eating disorders may be genetic, but it can be the trigger for people that may be predisposed to the condition.

One of my ATDT Forum friends sent me a link to this article today (which talks about the massive increase in eating disorders amongst men and the desire for the 'perfect body', in this instance focusing on bulimia): http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/more-news/bulimia-haunts-body-conscious-men/story-fn7x8me2-1226105573136


  1. This is a complicated subject. I think the "perfect body" thing is a red herring which masks things like low self esteem and perfectionism. After all, if Ben had felt like a worthwhile person in his own right, he wouldn't have wanted to emulate this other boy in the first place. I don't think this has much to do with the way someone is brought up, more like things such as confidence and perfectionism are genetically determined personality traits. So I actually think even this perfect body business might be more genetic than cultural. If Ben had been born 500 years ago, maybe he would have developed anorexia through trying to perfect religious fasting. Most people who develop eating disorders would probably do so regardless of their culture - there will always be a trigger, and the nature of the trigger doesn't really matter all that much.

    But I am a bit controversial like that :P probably because I'm a nerd...

  2. Hi Katie, I think you've summed it up admirably; I agree with you :)