61: A Millennial Man with Binge Eating Disorder
Ryan Sheldon is doing amazing things with spreading awareness about men and eating disorders through his blog and social media work. He shares his story of struggling with binge eating disorder in this episode and talks about what he'd like to see change in the body image, weight and food conversation. Ryan is a true genuine soul who is out there trying to do good in this world and I absolutely loved getting to know him in this episode.
Links mentioned in this episode:
Ryan's Instagram account
Ryan's blog: http://confessionsofabingeeater.com/
National Eating Disorders Association website (for more education about eating disorders)
Positive Nutrition online course coming soon!
Join the Nutrition Matters Podcast Community on Facebook
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Paige: Hey Everyone! Welcome back to another episode of Nutrition Matters Podcast. As always, I’m Paige Smathers, your host. And I’m so excited to share with you this interview I did with Ryan Sheldon, who is a millennial man who is willing to talk about his eating disorder. It’s just so refreshing to have a conversation with a man because it’s such a different perspective than we often get. And as Ryan and I discuss in this episode, you know, men struggle too. And it’s really important to shed light on that and to have conversations about that. So, that’s what we did in this episode and I’m excited to share it with you. He’s wonderful, he’s a lot of fun to follow on Instagram and we talk about that and his journey with his eating disorder in this episode. He is newly in recovery so he has a lot of things to share about what it’s like. He’s very open he’s very vulnerable, he’s very willing to kind of be an open book. So, this is a lot of fun and I think you're going to really enjoy getting to know Ryan and discussing a little bit more about what it’s like to be a millennial man with Binge Eating Disorder. Thanks so much for joining me for this episode and I hope you enjoy it.
So, hey Ryan! Thanks so much for coming on to Nutrition Matters Podcast. I’m so excited to talk to you today.
Ryan: I’m so excited to be here to talk to you as well. Thank you so much for having me.
Paige: Of course, of course. I’m always looking at finding interesting, new perspectives on kind of the same old topics of struggling with food and how to work through it and how to find your own journey. So, when I was kind of aware of what you were doing and I actually had your person reach out to me and asked if you could come on and I just thought, “Oh my gosh, that would be such a great fit for what I’m doing here on Nutrition Matters Podcast. So yeah, this is super excited. So, Ryan, today we kind of want to have a conversation about your eating disorder that you’re very open about and we’re kind of approaching it in terms of you being a millennial man with Binge Eating Disorder. So, that’s where we’re sort of going today, but let’s get to know you first beyond those things. So, tell us about your life beyond the eating disorder.
Ryan: Yeah, totally. I’m 29 years-old and I live in Los Angeles, CA. I like to think that I’m a typical 29 year-old guy. I work at startup company in technology and I honestly think I have a pretty normal life. When I get asked that question, it’s so standard because I view everybody as an equal so I don’t think there is anything out of the ordinary about me. Just a typical guy,
Paige: That’s kind of how I feel about myself. Totally normal person just out there trying to do some good things in the world, yeah. So, I just want to hear your story. Let’s just start there. I know that's a super open ended question, but tell us, I mean, I don’t really know your story yet, where does it start?
Ryan: Oh well, do you have like two days? Let’s start when I was probably diagnosed which was in March of 2015, but right before I jump into that I just want to say that I’ve noticed probably throughout my entire life, I would say since I was 13 years old that there was glimpses of my eating disorder, I just didn’t know I had an eating disorder until march of 2015 because I was diagnosed with one then. Definitely started awhile back before then. A few of my friends knew my eating habits and what would do with my eating habits and they mentioned something called Binge Eating Disorder so, I looked it up, right when they mentioned it, we were at lunch and I looked it up on my phone and every single symptom that they listed; I had been experiencing. So, I went to my doctor and my doctor diagnosed me with BED. Now, the thing is I’m a very open person and I know a lot of people don’t want to bring it to their doctor. That just wasn’t the case for me because I think I had been struggling for such a long time, I was so fed up with living the life that I was living that I just decided to bring it up to him. And he actually didn’t know what BED was, so he did his part and then he diagnosed me with it. For me, BED was kind of crazy the way that it presented itself. I’m a 6,4” guy, but I look like a typical average guy because I’m so tall, so I don’t necessarily look overweight. So, nobody throughout my entire life thought I had an eating disorder when I would eat a lot, they would just think that I loved to eat. For example: When I was 16 I would go to a restaurant and they would bring bread to the table and I would order six of those loaves of bread before my main meal every came out. And all people would say to me was, “Oh my gosh, you’re a growing boy. “ Especially my mom, that’s how she defended everything, “I’m a growing boy…. I like to eat a lot” It was justified the amount of food that I ate;
Paige: And don’t you think, Ryan, if you were female people might have some more alarms raised?
Ryan: Oh 100%. That’s, I think, actually really what’s unfortunately wrong with our society in the way that we view eating disorders because it’s sexist the way that the general population use eating disorders because, “men don’t get eating disorders, only women do.” People don’t realize or they think that eating disorders are associated with emotions and men don’t necessarily have emotions when in reality: A. Men absolutely have emotions, we have just as many emotions as women do, but even more importantly, eating disorders are a mental illness. Everybody can have a mental illness. It doesn’t matter your age, your gender, your sexual orientation, your race… It’s just one of those things; so I think educating people on what eating disorders are is the key here. I absolutely do think that if I was a girl; if it was my sister, it would have been a totally different story when I was 16 years-old.
Paige: Well, I mean on both ends of the spectrum, right? So, if a female is overeating people might be like, “Whoa, girls aren’t supposed to do that.” But the same is true on the other side where it’s like, a female might be losing weight and people are like, “Great! Good job!” And a male might be kind of be kind of meticulously and kind of eating disorder-ish, losing weight and people might be like, “hmm… what’s wrong with him?” So, it’s kind of like, women are expected to not eat much, and men are expected to eat a lot and if we’re breaking away from that norm or that expectation, even if it’s an eating disorder people kind of tend to let it fly under the radar, you know? Because women are suppose to hate their bodies and diet all the time and men are suppose to not have emotions and eat a bunch of food and not worry about it, right?
Ryan: Totally! And men are suppose to be the guy that go to the buffet and it’s okay, they don’t get judged for it. Would you believe that I used to order salads? And looking back I realized why I ate a salad for every single meal for lunch and dinner for years and the reason was because in my mind it was like, “Okay, there’s going to be more food there so I’m going to have more food to eat. “ But would you believe that people use to judge me when I would order salad and say, “That’s what women are suppose to order.”
Paige: Yeah! I do believe you.
Ryan: I’m not even joking. It was crazy to me, because I was like, “What are they talking about. I like what I like.”
Paige: There’s no girl food and guy food, what is that?
Ryan: Unfortunately that’s how people view it.
Paige: Not to kind of get you off topic with your story, but I think that’s an important thing to say right up front is kind of like, there’s going to be an inherent level of awareness of sexism of our culture especially in regards to eating disorders and our entire conversation because, I’m having a man come out and talk about his eating disorder on this podcast and it’s like (gasp). But in reality it’s so normal and it's out there and it’s not okay and we need to talk about it more so that more men can feel comfortable getting help.
Ryan: Totally. Which brings up so many other questions. I don’t know if we want to jump into that now?
Paige: Sure, go ahead.
Ryan. It’s just that, why do men think that it’s not socially acceptable to bring up an eating disorder, to talk about it? Which I find so fascinating because I’m such an open person and I feel like I’ve always been more of an open person. Not per say about this. It’s hard to believe now because it’s what I do, I talk to so many people about my eating disorder, but I just don’t know why it’s socially not acceptable for a man to talk about an eating disorder. I don’t know, maybe you have some insight into that.
Paige: Yeah! I don’t necessarily have the answer, but let’s discuss it. I teach a weekly class at a local drug and alcohol rehab center here in Salt Lake City and I’ve noticed that it tends to be a generational thing. It tends to be kind like the men who are in their high 30’s and above tend to kind of be closed off about talking about food issues or body image issues because we do dive into that in the time that their there. And I’ve noticed that the men in their 20’s tend to be just really open and say, “Yeah, I have an eating disorder” or, “Yeah, I’ve struggled with an eating disorder in my life” I think that’s really applicable to our conversation in that we’re framing it around the fact that you are in the millennial generation and I think that the millennial generation tends to be, tends to value vulnerability and openness and honesty and kind of reject some of these gender norms and stereotypes that other generations that have, in general, don’t reject quite as much. What do you think?
Ryan: That’s fascinating. I didn’t realize the fact that you’ve had experience with the older generation not being open about it and the millennial generation… it’s kind of surprising and it’s kind of not at the same time. I think millennials now, especially out here in Los Angeles, people are so open, so it’s not that unusual that you find that gender roles aren’t really defined here it’s kind of like people talk about whatever they feel like talking about. But that’s interesting, I think that nowadays, everything is so accepted that I believe it’s probably easier to talk about it. I can imagine 20 years ago me talking about this people would be like, “Why even bother talking about it?” They don’t believe it. I had a lot of people reach out to me and I’ve had a lot of men reach out to me and even more so than the men, the wives of men that are suffering from eating disorders reach out to me, the mothers of men that reach out to me that have eating disorders. This one woman reached out to me and she was telling me how her husband, who I think he’s like 35, how he suffers from Bulimia and he shared his story with his mother and his sister, I believe, and after he was finished sharing this story they said, “That’s not possible. Only women get bulimia”
Paige: Ugh! That’s so not true.
Ryan: It’s so not true! And if we want to spitting facts out and statistics, 20 million women in America are suffering from eating disorders or will suffer from an eating disorder, I’m pretty sure that means that 10 million men will. So, I mean those numbers are so so crazy and it just blows my mind. Maybe what has happened is [people have been rejected so many times or they’ve seen people be rejected or they’ve heard stories that they just don’t want to come out with it.
Paige: Absolutely. Another thing that I’ve heard from my work, working with men and women, is sort of this issue that most of the people that are in the roles of helping people who are suffering from eating disorders are women and sometimes men are more comfortable talking to men, but there are also men who have voiced to me that they’re actually more comfortable talking to a woman because it’s like telling a man about your struggle kind of sets up this pecking order that you're not as manly as the man you’re talking to, or something along those lines. It’s sort of hard to express vulnerability to another man. You know women tend to get into the role of registered dietician or therapists who works with eating disorders. And even physicians who work with eating disorders a lot of times it’s a women heavy team. And so, I think that can sometimes be a barrier for men. I’ve actually interviewed Andrew Wallen, and he has started a body image therapy center on the East Coast and he works primarily with men. So, it’s kind of cool; I think there’s men coming out and doing this work, but it can be really difficult to reach out and get help from women sometimes, I think.
Ryan: That makes total sense because they can feel a sense of being demasculinized, if that’s even a way to say that?
Paige: That sounds right to me, I like it!
Ryan: Even if I take it a step further, and this is not to bash on the medical industry or the doctors but a lot of doctors out there don’t know much about eating disorders because they don’t really spend that time learning about them in school. It’s really hard to go to a doctor that doesn’t know much about it and most, unfortunately, don’t unless they specialize in [that]; with that being said a lot of doctors don’t even screen for eating disorders. When I was sitting in my therapist's office for five years and he never once asked me about my eating habits; and I shared with him, by the way. Don’t get me wrong I would share and [say], “Listen, I went to weight watchers this week, I gained 5 lbs, then I would go next week and I gained 3 lbs. Then I would lose a pound and then I would gain…” There was never conversation surrounding my eating habits, which is crazy because my weight fluctuates. You know, frequent dieting and weight fluctuation is a huge thing for binge eaters because that’s just what happens and it’s kind of crazy that never got brought up and I don’t know if it’s because I was a guy and I actually asked my doctor; he said, “It’s because they have so many things that they have to screen for for insurance purposes that they don’t have time to do that.” Unfortunately, I’m not joking with you, I speak to a ton of doctors. In the past 6 months I’ve probably spoken to over 100 doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and primary care doctors and 95% of them don’t screen for eating disorders.
Paige: Well and it’s also really intimidating thing. It’s kind of like if they find out their patient has an eating disorder, now they have to get all this care for them and it’s like, “I’m going to go find an expert in that because that’s kind of something I don’t want to touch with a 10 foot poll.”
Ryan:100% .It opens up a whole new can of worms. A thought that’s run through my mind is I wonder if they find out a patient has an eating disorder, then they have to refer them to somebody else and that means they will lose business. That has actually crossed my mind before.
Paige: Hard to say. I bet for some people who are in that realm of having to keep their business might have that as a concern, might have that cross their mind. I’m sure doctors, in general, are trying to do the very best they can at providing care and providing solutions and keeping people healthy and I think eating disorders tend to be this spooky mystical, “I don’t know what the heck to do about that, it kind of freaks me out” kind of thing for a lot of people; not just doctors. The general public feels that way too. Therapists, if they don’t have specialized training, dieticians that don’t have specialized training it can kind of be like this spooky world of, “No, I don’t even want to go there”. So, I think people are doing their very best, but maybe don’t have the level of awareness or sensitivity that you get when you start doing this work, where you’re like, “Whoa! It’s everywhere. Whoa! How are we not talking about this more?” I think that comes when you start doing the work of listening and learning about it. It really is. Disordered eating is absolutely everywhere.
Ryan: It is. It’s like one of those things where it's like, you know when someone points something out to you, like in a song? If you have a hard time understanding what they’re singing in the lyrics and then you hear it, and then you look it up and you realize that those are the words; you only hear those words from now on. It’s the same thing, when I came out with having my eating disorder then all of sudden everyone seemed to come out with their eating disorder.
Paige: Totally! That’s so true. You learn a new word and you hear it everywhere else. That’s actually a really important concept that I try to use with the people that I work with is you will notice what you’re trying to see and what you're trying to pay attention to. If you’re feeling like you're struggling or you’re feeling really negative, like trying to even just look for the good things that are going on in your day is a way to see the positive things because it’s there it’s just easier to see it if you’re looking for it. So, I think that’s a cool concept to use when you’re struggling too.
Paige: Okay, let’s get back to the story. So, you got diagnosed in 2015.
Paige: After years of wondering, “What the heck is wrong with me? What’s going on here?
Ryan: Totally. And just to give you some insight on why there was something wrong with me. One of my biggest things that I would do is I would go through a drive thru and spend $70 at a fast food restaurant and that was also after I ate dinner; that was a big thing that I did I would go to dinner with my family and on my drive home I would drive passing a fast food restaurant and I would go through that and I would leave and I would go through the other fast food restaurant right next to it and then sometimes I would go to a third fast food restaurant. And I would buy so much food and then I would eat it and to be honest with you; I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that. At the time, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it, but I think subconsciously I did. You know those recyclable grocery bags that you can get at a food store?
Ryan: So, I use to have those in my car, but I had one that was specifically for all the food that I would get so that nobody would see me carry all the bags of fast food into my apartment.
Paige: So there was some level of shame and awareness that this wasn’t normal?
Ryan: 100% At the time I was kind of like, “this is fine.” But I secretly knew otherwise, I guess looking back. I remember one of my best friends who’s probably my only friend that I hadn’t eaten in front and it’s probably because they also suffer from Binge Eating Disorder, in fact a lot of my friends suffer from Binge Eating Disorder and I think it’s kind of interesting looking at it. I guess binge eaters attract binge eaters, I don’t know. I ordered all this food and my friend looked at me and said, “Ryan, what is wrong with you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You just spent $70 at Taco Bell. How is that possible?” and I said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just hungry.” And they said, “No. That’s not normal.” And at that moment, I thought, “Wait a second.” And then I never did it again, at least with a friend in the car. I could see something was wrong; so then I was diagnosed in 2015 and ever since then at that moment I was actually really relieved and I was no longer embarrassed with what I was experiencing. It’s not that I used BED as a crutch, but I thought, “Okay, I’m a normal guy and I suffer from this disorder.” That’s really how my mentality was. Let me make the best of this. What can I do to further myself so I would go to my therapist and I still do once a week and even though he is not well versed in eating disorders he educates himself more and more and that’s a conversation we have every week is about my food. Also, what I think in doing what I’ve done; I have a blog and I have an instagram it’s been really cathartic for me and it's been therapeutic. I genuinely feel that I haven’t gone through the whole formal treatment, I guess you could say. Mine has kind of been [through] having people reach out to me and sharing their story with me and having me be able to share my story with them has been so so cathartic. A huge part of my recovery has been my family. When I would go out to dinner with my mom and I would order so many things off the menu and she would literally sit there and judge me for it and get angry and say, “You don’t need that, you don't need that.” And I use to think she was judging me and now that I’ve come to a place in my recovery where I gave her permission to tell me if I’m ordering too much, let me know. So, what she does now is if I’m ordering too much she’ll say, “Ryan, maybe you should only get one thing instead of six things and see how you feel after you eat it and if you’re hungry then get more.” I don’t view it as she’s judging me anymore because I’ve given her permission.
Paige: Right! Actually, that’s key! When you give consent, when you say “this is how you can support me in my recovery…” that’s key for a support person to run with that. What’s not good is for a support person to assume, “Oh this is what this person needs so I’m just going to provide advice unsolicited to my loved one.” That tends to not go well unless the loved one says, “This is something you can do to support me.” So, that’s just something to keep in mind for people listening is I think that’s why it’s working for you because you asked for it.
Ryan:Well, you know I want to also make it clear that it took me such a long time to get to that place. Don’t expect to just do something like that right off the bat. It took awhile because also what I found is that sometimes my mother’s approach, but my mom she says things kind of harshly sometimes and I had a conversation with her one day and I said, “Mom, do you know what I struggle with?” She said, “Yeah, binge eating disorder” or “an eating disorder.” And I said, “Yeah, do you know what that means to me? What I actually deal with? She had no clue. So I think education, again, is the biggest key here. So, if you’re going to share or give someone permission; educate them on what you’re going through as well, because they need to see the big picture.
Paige: Yeah, most people don’t understand it. Most people don’t have the ability to put themselves in your shoes and suspend judgement. A lot of people’s “education” about eating disorders comes from media too. I have so many questions for you, Ryan. Let’s hit on the instagram thing first. So, tell us how that came to be and then tell us about how it’s affected your life because those of you who don’t know this guy literally has over 16,000 followers at this point and counting. There's this giant community behind you and who you’re open with and like you said, people are reaching out and sharing their stories and it’s been this beautiful, cathartic thing for you, so talk about that.
Ryan: Absolutely. So, when I was diagnosed back in 2015 I said, “How can I make a difference in this eating disorder community? What can I do?” And [just through] brainstorming I created a blog and it took, obviously, a long time to create a blog. It’s actually harder to maintain the blog than it is to build the blog. Through all that I said, “I need to be able to reach the masses, I need to share my story. I want something to happen” and during my research of Binge Eating Disorder I realized there wasn’t much information out there at all about this disorder and there was no community for me to go talk to about this disorder online. But even more importantly I realized that there were no guys talking about this that I could find at that time. So, about a year ago I decided [to] create an instagram account where I can post pictures of food, maybe, or inspirational quotes or things like that. So, I started to do that and then all of a sudden, within the first month of having that instagram account I had people reach out to me sharing their stories with me and I thought, “Wait a second, that’s kind of crazy. What’s happening? I don’t even know what I’m doing, really and these people are reaching out to me sharing their stories.” So here, I am with a little over 16,000 followers and it’s been life changing. I use to post things that were very, I don’t want to say superficial, but it didn’t go very deep and now that I post things that go deep and so vulnerable the amount of support that I have from these people that I don’t even know; I can’t even express to you how incredible it is. It’s a very supportive community and I feel like me sharing my story out there allows other people to share their story out there. Can I tell you something? Some of these people on instagram that have reached out to me have actually become my friends and we talk every couple days on the phone. It’s been life changing having this instagram account and I’ve been really listening to what my followers want. They’ll message me at the very beginning to be completely transparent with you. I had someone reach out to me and say, “What are you trying to do? I’m kind of confused with this. It’s kind of insulting what you’re doing.”
Paige: Oh, interesting…
Ryan: They thought I was glorifying an eating disorder. To be fair that was also someone who was diagnosed with Bulimia who felt like I was exploiting an eating disorder, I kind of took a step back and thought, “How can I fix this?” And I asked that person, “What can I do to fix this? What would you like to see?” Because this is my story, but I’m so open to listening to the whole community and I’ve figured out what’s happening and what road I should go down and the road I’m choosing to go down of being a guy that’s struggling with an eating disorder. That wasn’t my first impression.
Paige: Well, that’s something you found out along the way, right? “That people are following me because I’m a dude who’s talking about this” And that’s kind of different than what other people are doing on instagram. That’s sort of what people needed you to be for them, is that fair to say?
Ryan: That’s such a fair statement and I think when I first started out I thought, “What is going to be my differentiator? Why are these people reaching out to me?” And I thought it was because I, and I don’t to say this to come across wrong, but I thought that I was funny and I can make light of my situation like, “I like to binge eat, woo hoo!” But the thing is that wasn’t the case it was more that I was a guy. And then all of a sudden when I kept getting this feedback from being [saying], “Oh my gosh, thank you so much for being the voice for men that suffer with this. My husband suffers with this. My thirteen-year-old child suffers with Anorexia, my son” I was like, “This is incredible!” So, now I have a voice and why I have a voice is because I’m a guy that’s suffering with this and now what I’m seeing from now versus a year ago is there are so many men that have now started their own instagrams and they send me messages of, “You’ve inspired me.” Which is so incredible because that’s what I want to do. Part of the reason that we’re speaking today is because I am a guy, but what happens in five years when just as many men are out there talking about eating disorders as women are it won’t be as novelty, which is what I want.
Paige: Yeah! Absolutely, I want that too and I’m really sensitized to sexist issues, right? And I try my very best to not be a part of that because in this world we’re a little bit opposite sexist, right? We kind of don’t include men in the conversation, we say, “Oh I work with women. I work with women who struggle with body image.” And why are we leaving men out? They struggle too, you know?
Ryan: Oh my gosh, totally.
Paige: That’s a pet peeve of mine.
Ryan: It is with me as well and to be fair I’ve had conversations, particularly recently and by all means, I’m a feminist I believe in equal rights for everyone, totally 150% but I will have conversations about this and I’ll say, “It’s kind of sexist against men” Especially when it gets into the eating disorders and also the body image issues.
Paige: Absolutely! Especially that aspect, don’t you think?
Ryan: Let me tell you something, that is something that I deal with and I know so many men that deal with that as well. Here’s the only way to put it into perspective. It a woman looks in a mirror and is checking herself out everybody assumes, she’s making sure her makeup on properly, making sure her hair looks good, whatever. But if a guy looks in a mirror it’s because he’s vain. Guess what? That’s not true. I look in the mirror for the same reason a woman looks in a mirror sometimes. I look in the mirror to make sure I don’t look super fat. It’s all these body image issues that I have and I think people don’t realize men suffer from that and in reality so many guys do, oh my gosh!
Paige: Thank you for creating space for men to have that thought. That makes me so so happy. Not that men having body issues makes me happy but just that there’s space that you can hold some space for those men who kind of feel alone, where if they’re being honest they realize, “Wow! I’m really struggling with the way that my body looks or the way that I feel about my body regardless of how it looks.”
Ryan: No, I appreciate that. I was recently speaking with somebody and I was talking about how it was hard for me to find clothes because I’m a very big guy. My weight’s distributed because I’m very tall, but it went down this whole conversation of men have these body image issues and he totally disagreed with that and I just could not even believe it and I just thought, “I got to end this conversation” Because the facts are what they are and the fact is that I speak to so many men and so many men suffer from them and once you share your story with them, oh my gosh, they share your story with you and a lot of my guy friends are so open with me now about their own issues. So, it doesn’t really matter, men, girl, what size you are we all have our own issues I suppose.
Paige: Yeah. And it’s not fair to generalize and say, “Well, because I’m a man and I don’t struggle with body image therefore all men don’t struggle with body image.” That’s not fair to generalize just based on your own experience. Because you know for a fact through your own personal experience, plus people you’ve talked to, plus people who’ve reached out to you. Yeah, this is definitely something that’s on a lot of dudes minds.
Ryan: And then it gets you really really fired up if you see… and this is even not to come across as sounding horrible, I think that this is just the reality of it and how I see people react is that if you see a really big guy with a normal sized woman then people think that’s acceptable, but if you see reversed and you see a normal sized guy with a bigger sized woman than it’s unacceptable and again that’s a horrible way to look at it as well. I can’t stand those kind of conversations where people think that’s acceptable because everybody’s equal.
Paige: So, I want to make sure that we talk about things beyond the fact that you’re a guy. And I want to just talk about your experience too, but I want to close up the segment on talking about sexist issues or how men and women are treated differently in regards to eating disorders or in regards to body image issues, so I just want to see if there’s anything else you want to say before we move on to talking about your experience personally.
Ryan: What I think is really important and I think it’s the third time I say this is educating yourself and a lot of guys right now feel like they’re very lost. They might not know that there’s something wrong with them. They might assume that there is but they’re afraid to talk to anybody because maybe they have and they’ve been rejected or maybe they don’t think it’s socially acceptable. I urge them to be open about it and speak to their doctors about it and do their own education and educating them even before they speak to their doctors about it so they can go in there armed because if you think that you’re struggling with an eating disorder then chances are something isn’t right, possibly and you are struggling. Just embrace it and be open because that is something that I learned as a guy is being open and being vulnerable has literally helped me in my recovery where I’m not struggling like I use to and I would have never ever been that way had I not been open. Don’t look at eating disorders like they have genders. Look at them as a mental illness. Maybe you don't want to look at them like a mental illness, but the fact is that they are. I think that just being open is such a key thing and you will be amazed at the support group that you have and that you receive and that you get when are open about it
Paige: So, what I’m hearing is connection. Connect with other people, don’t be afraid to connect with yourself and be honest and be open about what’s really happening. Be vulnerable in that way and then maybe even finding ways to connect with nature with things that make you feel whole and well because so often our urge when we’re struggling is to disconnect, right? Disconnect from ourselves, disconnect with other people, disconnect from the aspects of life that make us feel good. That seems like that’s something you found and one of your ways that you connect really really well with people is through your social media account and I think that connection is a really important theme of what I was hearing you say.
Ryan: 100%. If I didn’t have my instagram account I don’t know what my recovery would look like because the fact that I can connect with people and they can connect with me; for me that’s what I need to go through my recovery. That might not be what everybody else needs but it’s just, for me that’s the experience has been incredible and I’m so grateful for everything that has ever happened to me. I don’t want to see grateful for my eating disorder, but I’m grateful for the recovery that I’ve had and the experience that i’ve had through that.
Paige: Yay! That’s just an amazing thing to be able to say. This has been so hard but I’m grateful for it because it’s given me so many beautiful things. I think that's a really awesome attitude. So, Ryan, I just want to ask and you can be totally honest. I might wish you would say something here because I like… well anyway, we’ll just go on with it, but just be totally honest I just want to hear about your experience. When you would binge, like when you described that you would go to [multiple] fast food [places]; would you say that you enjoyed the food? Was it good food that you really liked? Or not? LIke if you really think about taste and flavor and experience and enjoyment; were you enjoying food?
Ryan: You know, it’s funny you say this, because I share this with people and I think it puts it into perspective for a lot of them. I absolutely did not enjoy the food.
Paige: YAY! THAT WAS THE RIGHT ANSWER! Haha, just kidding
Ryan: You’re eating it and first of all, people need to know that with my eating disorder that I suffer from, Binge Eating Disorder, a lot of times you're not even hungry so let’s just clarify that. It has nothing to do with the food or hunger. It’s just like, “Okay, I’m just going to continue to eat.” You don’t enjoy the food. You know? I might go and binge on some foods that are my favorite foods, which is, I feel, what a lot of people do but imagine you’re full and you keep eating. I know that I’m full and I keep eating so there’s no way to possibly enjoy the food if I’m eating until I feel like I can’t move anymore, or I’m sick.
Paige: So, that’s a common misconception that I really feel passionate about shedding light on. Some people are actually afraid to enjoy food because then it will lead to them binging or overeating and there’s a difference, just FYI for people listening. Binging is characterized by feeling really out of control, feeling really compulsive, eating more food in a two hour period than the average person your same age and height and weight would normally eat, right? There’s some kind of compulsion aspects to binging; whereas, overeating is simply just eating past the point of fullness and we all do that and that’s a normal part of the human condition, but binging is beyond that. I think that’s an important thing to talk about. But people do voice a fear of… let’s say someone’s in recovery from Anorexia and i’m talking to them about the importance of enjoying food, or even not in recovery from Anorexia, just your average everyday person who’s dieted a ton and is eating gross foods that they don’t even enjoy that are tasteless and flavorless and gross; and here I am saying, “You need to tap into the enjoyment of food. It’s okay to add butter, it’s okay to make your food taste good. That’s a really really important part of eating.” And then people come back and say, “But I’m so scared that I’m going to binge or overeat if I enjoy the food.” And so, that’s kind of where I was going with that question. I think that’s important for people to recognize that when you binge, yeah, you might be eating a food that you like but when you’re eating that quantity, you're not liking it past the seventh bite of it, type of idea, right?
Ryan: Totally! And from what you said I actually takeaways from that. It’s interesting, I know a lot of people that suffer from eating disorders and I have a couple in mind when I say this. I know that someone that is diagnosed with BED, but she is afraid to eat because she’s afraid that she’s going to spiral and lose control if she does, so she doesn’t eat. So, here’s a question: Is she now anorexic or does she have BED? Because I think that when you’re diagnosed with one eating disorder you kind of experience….
Paige: Yeah. It’s a gambet.
Ryan: Yeah, it’s unfortunate and it’s kind of the way it’s been for me, it’s been for a lot people that suffer so that’s one thing I took away. The next thing is how you mentioned overeating, which is so important to bring up and the differences. I think that how I like to explain it is: in America, it’s a social thing that we overeat and you can think of it like at Thanksgiving, America overeats and how that’s different from someone with Binge Eating Disorder is a week and a half before my binge, I’m planning for that binge that’s a week and half later. A huge portion of it, at least in my experience, is the planning aspect. I would go to work on a MOnday and I would be planning for my binge that would be happening [a week and a half later]. And what that planning looks like means, I’m looking up recipes, I’m creating a recipe list, and ingredient list, I’m ordering things that I need to cook the meal. Just an example: one week I went to work on a Monday, and every Friday I would have one of my friends, who also suffers from Binge EAting Disorder come over [to] my house and we would cook food. So, I sent my friend recipes and I’d say, “Which one should we make?” My friend would say, “I don’t know.” And I would say, “That’s a perfect answer because we’re going to make ALL of them.” It was like five different recipes. One of the recipes was cheese fries, so I was [taught] “I need a deep fryer.” So, I went on amazon, purchased a deep fryer, paid extra money to have it delivered to get here by Friday. So Friday comes, we cook all this food, we eat EVERYTHING and then I feel so disgusted with myself because that’s another symptom of BED. As soon as you finish the binge you feel terrible about yourself. It’s almost like your disassociating when you’re eating. You [don’t] even realize what’s happening. It’s almost like a blackout to be completely honest with you. Then immediately after, I looked at myself in the mirror and the deep fryer and I said, “I can’t have this.” And I took it and threw down the trash shoot. Right after I finished using it for the first time. I mean, that is so crazy that I did that looking back [I though], “That is not normal.”
Paige: Yeah! Thanks for sharing that. That’s really really interesting to hear the specifics of how it went down. So, a follow up question to my question about enjoying the food you binged on and the answer is, it might be foods that I like, but at a certain point you stop enjoying it because that’s just the way it works for humans when we eat food and we eat too much of it our bodies tries to help us out and say like, “Hey, this isn’t tasting as good, maybe it’s time to stop.”
Paige: But my follow up question is: When you are successful with not disassociating as your eating and really tuning into the like the texture, the flavor, the enjoyment of the food, the whole mindfulness experience of eating; do you notice a difference between staying present and really enjoying the food and how much you end up eating? Versus the times where you disassociate.
Ryan: Oh, 100%. For me, I notice a difference, I don’t know if everybody else does. I think that when I sit there and really enjoy my food, well first of all, I don’t eat it all because I’m being mindful about it as I’m eating it. It’s kind of a yes and no. It’s always in the back of my mind. I definitely would say that my best meals that I’ve ever had, and I can remember them because I was so present in the meals that I can remember the best meals that I’ve ever had. And there’s a bunch of them, but that’s probably because I wasn’t binging during my meals. So, I definitely notice a difference. To be honest. The restaurant that I use to binge at, I don’t even go to anymore, I just can’t go to it anymore because I don’t want to associate that part of my life with that restaurant, if that makes sense.
Paige: That’s understandable. And I hope you don't feel like i’m fishing for answers. I really just feel like people need to connect that the fact that enjoying food is a really important part of being able to be present enough to recognize what you’re body’s communicating to you. And when you enjoy food and you enjoy the textures and flavors and really make food taste good to you and satisfying and nourishing it’s easier to recognize when that’s stop tasting quite as good or when your body’s saying, “Hey, you’re getting full, go ahead and stop.” I really feel like people need to give themselves permission to enjoy their food.
Ryan: I totally agree. I think that for me, when my friends would say, “Where do you want to go for dinner?” I didn’t care where I wanted to go. In California the restaurants get graded like, A, B and I’m pretty sure C is closed and it’s on the cleanliness and everything and I didn’t care where we went, it could be the most disgusting food because I couldn't taste anything. It didn’t matter to me. It was food. I was putting food in my body, I didn't care what it was. And looking back on it, actually as we’re having this conversation that might have been something that showed me that I didn’t even care about what I ate or how much I ate of it because I wasn’t even present when I was eating it.
Paige: You weren’t tasting it.
Ryan: I wasn’t tasting it. It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter what I ate. I could have been eating the worst tasting food ever and it just didn’t even matter because it was just food.
Paige: I just feel like that’s a really important for the average listener who’s listening to this because it’s an interesting topic, type of thing. I really think connecting, “Okay, if I enjoy my food, that’s not putting me at risk for overeating or binge eating. It’s probably helping me connect with my body better. Okay, I have permission to enjoy food.” It’s so important! I know it’s made a big difference in my own life. Allowing yourself to just eat tasty delicious food is so much different than when you’re trying to eat this cardboard, gross, dry, bland flavorless food.
Ryan: Totally, and to piggyback off that, I think for me and for a lot of people that I’ve spoken to that are suffering from eating disorders, they want to get to a place of mindful eating or intuitive eating. That is the goal is to be able to sit there and the butter on the piece of bread because there’s nothing wrong with that because your body does need it. I think that when you can get to that point that is the goal, for me at least to get to that place where I can sit down and I can have a meal and I can have a piece of bread if I want a piece of bread. I can have a pizza if I want a pizza, I can have whatever I want to have and not feel guilty about it.
Paige: Yeah! I love love love what you just said and I would just add to think about intuitive eating or mindful eating as a practice or a place you get to. Because it’s not really that way for anybody. It’s a lifelong journey and practice of, “Let’s not worry about the 99 other things I could be improving on with my mindfulness, let’s try this one right now in this moment. Let’s do a little bit better today, right now.” And then continue to progress and move forward. I think that’s how it really happens in reality rather than this idea of someday you’ll arrive.
Ryan: That’s a good point. One of my really close friends is a very mindful, intuitive eater and I’m always envious because I’m sitting there and she’ll say, “I’m going to have a cheeseburger” and she eats half the cheeseburger. And thinking back, I’ll think, “How are you only eating half of that cheeseburger, what is happening?” You’re just eating what you want and if you’re full, you’re full. And I’m so envious. That will be something that I practice or I will try to practice.
Paige: And I think calling it a practice gives you the space to be imperfect and to take things one step at a time. When the idea or attitude is like, “Okay, I’m just going to hope I get there someday.” YOu never will, you know?
Ryan: Totally. And to be honest, I’ve never looked at it as a practice and what I feel when I say that now, “It’s a practice” It actually feels like it gives me power.
Paige: It’s empowering, don’t you think?
Ryan: Totally! I’ve never looked at it like that
Paige: Oh, yeah. I mean I think about it like if you want to sit at the piano, you wouldn't try to play rachmaninoff first thing, right? I mean that’s just a cliche, but it’s like, duh! Of course you’d practice the piano for years before you can play that type of piece and so and you don't worry while you’re playing ‘Mary had a little Lamb’ you’re not stressing about the fact that you can’t play rachmaninoff yet. You think, “Well of course not. That makes total sense”. I think that’s exactly how a journey toward a healthier relationship with food is. It’s like, “Okay, what thing do I feel like I could work on today or even this meal or even this moment?” And just be a little more mindful or a little more intuitive or a little bit more connected to [your] body, whatever you want to call it. I think that’s the process.
Ryan: I love that. That is such an interesting way to look at it, I love that. I never looked at it like that.
Paige: Yeah, thanks, Ryan. I love what you’re doing and I love that you’re shedding light and creating space for all different types of people to reach for help and to feel supported and feel like they're not alone. I think that work is valuable and important and amazing. I’m just so grateful that you’re out here doing this so, good job!
Ryan: Thank you so much. That means so much to me. That’s why I’m doing this because it’s making a difference and I genuinely feel that way and I love it and I appreciate it.
Paige: So, do you have anything else you want to add? I want to make sure you’re able to say the things you wanted to say about your experience, your story, what you’ve learned. Do you have anything specific? Any lightbulb moments to share of your recovery so far? I know it’s an ongoing thing..
Ryan: Totally. You know? I think one of the things is to understand and realize that no two persons stoy’s are the same. Everybody has their own
Paige: I can vouch for that.
Ryan: Yeah. Their own experiences, we’re all different, but we all have something in common. We all suffer from an eating disorder no matter what eating disorder you’re suffering from. Anyone that’s suffering; we have that in common. The biggest thing that I can say is that. Again, for the fourth time, I just want people to educate themselves. That’s the goal because, the moment when people educate themselves is the moment their lightbulb goes [on]. And I’ve seen it happen when I’ve shared my story with somebody face to face and their eyes change because they say, “Wait a second… That’s incredible.” I use to travel and share my story around the country and I would sit there in front of doctors or people and a lot of doctor and they would come up to me after and say, “I never viewed it like that. I have a patient that reminds me exactly of you and now I think I might go down that road of exploring an eating disorder moreso with them or talking about it with them.” Because people don’t understand; they think it’s tied to emotions, they don't think it's that dangerous, which it really is. I think it’s just [education]; and people that are afraid to share their story or feel like they’re ashamed of it, realize and understand that in you sharing your story you have the power to possibly change someone else’s life for the better. And that is something that is so powerful, in my experience, that I think. The fact that I was able to do that I'm grateful for that. I think that if you’re ashamed and afraid of sharing your story remember that: You have the power to change someone else’s life. Why wouldn’t you?
Paige: That’s a beautiful thought. So, if people want to follow your blog and instagram and all that, let’s just take a moment to talk about how people can reach out and follow you and keep track of you and your story.
Ryan: My blog is confessionsofabingeeater.com. And then my instagram account, which I’m active on every single day that is: @bingeeaterconfessions. Follow me, reach out, send me a message. It might take me a couple of days, but I always love to hear people sharing their stories or asking for advice. I’m not a doctor so I can’t give medical advice, but I can give my experience.
Paige: Yeah, just sometimes sharing is what people need and getting hooked up with the right resources can be another thing. That's so so great. Ryan, thank you again for all your work and it’s only been a year, I can’t imagine what you’re going to do next. I’d love to keep in touch and keep my eye on what you’re up to. I’m sure there’s fun things down the road for you.
Ryan: Absolutely, I will keep you up to date with everything.
Paige: Okay, great. Thank you.
Ryan: Thank you for having me.
Paige: Well, I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this conversation. If you haven’t already please go ahead and leave a review on itunes. Thanks again so much for listening and we’ll see you soon for another episode