Two years ago when he was spiraling into the eating disorder at a rate of knots, Ben was obsessed with comparing himself with another boy at school. So much so that Ben used to get incredibly upset and distressed about how this boy was stealing the limelight whereas Ben was disappearing into the background. If it wasn't so obviously distressing for Ben, his descriptions of this boy's apparent behaviour would have been funny...
This boy was hugely competitive, brilliant at every kind of sport and always top of the class in every academic subject. He was tall, handsome, muscular and athletic, constantly surrounded by an entourage of admiring girls to whom he would (according to Ben) routinely show off his muscular 'six pack' to gasps of admiration and amazement.
Meanwhile (according to Ben) this boy would be constantly receiving text messages from other admiring girls while sending texts to yet more besotted women. The other boys in the year thought he was wonderful and wanted to be his friend. The staff thought he was wonderful. Everyone thought he was wonderful.
But Ben couldn't handle it.
I know that experts believe that the quest for the 'perfect' body image doesn't 'cause' eating disorders, but with Ben this situation was definitely one of the triggers. Don't get me wrong: in no way am I blaming this boy; it was simply a case of Ben wanting the girls to 'love him' (as he put it) in the same way. Because the girls seemed overawed by this boy's physique, Ben wanted to look the same. He was also convinced that this Adonis-like body was what gave the boy his confidence. If Ben had a 'six pack' like this boy, then he'd be popular and confident, too.
This was reinforced by the Adonis-like images Ben saw in men's glossy 'health' magazines. To be popular and successful socially, you needed to look the part.
Ben had spent the entire summer of 2009 trying to build up his physique by swimming, running, weights and the gym. The trouble was that, unlike this boy who loved sport, Ben had come to hate it, only seeing it as a means to an end.
Ben says that he suddenly realised he could reach his goal faster by eating less because this would mean he wouldn't need to exercise as much.
For a time it worked.
Then he figured that if he ate EVEN LESS, then he'd be even less shackled to the endless exercise routines.
The trouble was that with the reduction in food came rapid weight loss and with the weight loss came muscle loss. This meant that the 'six pack' he craved never materialised as his body quickly became skinny rather than athletic. This in turn made him exercise EVEN MORE instead of LESS. Result? A vicious spiral downhill. And with this vicious spiral came all the eating disorder behaviours, rages and moods, not to mention the way an ED loves to isolate its victim. So instead of becoming MORE popular, Ben was fading into the background on every count.
(Here I must emphasise again that in NO WAY am I pointing fingers and blaming this poor boy for 'causing' Ben's eating disorder. If it hadn't been him, the trigger would have been someone or someTHING else; that's not what this post is about.)
These days this boy is still around, of course. He still has his awesome athletic physique and he's still good at everything including getting the girls. But the big difference is that Ben doesn't give a damn. I know that because of the way he mentioned him in passing yesterday. Ben's priorities and outlook have changed dramatically in the past couple of years.
Ben still likes the idea of having a 'six pack'. But he's also found, especially now he's two years older and more mature, that six packs don't get the girls or make you more popular.
Valuable, lasting relationships go a little deeper than that!