Twenty-five percent of college men engage in eating disorder behaviors, says Collegiate Survey Project.
By Emily Garcia
Drama sophomore Eric Dorsa developed anorexia at the age of 8 and suffered 10 years before seeking treatment.
Almost 10 years later, he is now a recovery advocate helping others learn to manage eating disorders.
He volunteers at the Eating Recovery Center, 250 E. Basse Road, in the Quarry Market. The center treats people of all ages who suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, diabulimia, and mood and anxiety disorders.
Diabulimia is the term for people with diabetes who have bulimia.
As a recovery advocate, Dorsa spreads awareness of eating disorders, ways they affect people’s lives and the message that it is possible to recover.
Dorsa has been featured in blogs and magazines such as the Huffington Post and The Daily Dot and is currently writing an article for askmen.com about eating disorders.
The first symptoms of anorexia started when he was 8, Dorsa said Sept. 28. He described himself as “the chubby kid” who did not fit in with other boys his age.
“I remember feeling very self-conscious about my body and weight, which that kind of thinking is very characteristic of an eating disorder as a way to cope with stress,” Dorsa said.
Dorsa began to realize he was different from other boys his age when he noticed he did not like the same activities.
He grew up in a conservative Catholic environment, and when he realized he might be gay, he began to deprive himself of eating because of the stress.
“Being gay is not the reason anorexia took over, but I felt that it was easier to blame my body for what I was feeling than to talk about my sexuality,” Dorsa said.
Anorexia is an obsessive fear of weight gain and the refusal to maintain a healthy body weight, according to the Eating Recovery Center website.
“At the time, young adolescent males were typically not diagnosed with eating disorders, so there really was no treatment available in Texas for a young male with anorexia,” Dorsa said.
It was believed that eating disorders only affected upper-class women and were caused by vanity, but it is now recognized that eating disorders can affect many types of people, Dorsa said.
“Eating disorders do not discriminate,” Dorsa said. “They affect all age ranges, all genders and all ethnicities.”
“Over 33 million people in the United States have eating disorders, and a majority of them go untreated,” Dorsa said. “Ten million men develop eating disorders of which only 10 to 15 percent seek treatment because society has lacked the understanding to actually diagnose men with eating disorders.”
Dorsa did not get treatment for his disorder until he was 18.
“At that point, I went into a patient facility in Dallas that actually treated adult males with eating disorders, and from there I began a long journey of recovery,” Dorsa said.
Dorsa’s recovery lasted seven years. “When I left the facility, I had to figure out what the disorder was giving me,” Dorsa said.
“It was giving me a sense of safety and control in a personal world that was very unsafe, and I needed help to guide me toward a healthier path in life.”
Some people have a genetic predisposition to develop an eating disorder, Dorsa said.
“Fifty to 80 percent of the components that contribute to an eating disorder are, in fact, inherited, and it is a mental disorder,” Dorsa said. Other factors include extreme stress, trauma, abuse or neglect, Dorsa said.
Dorsa believes society has normalized characteristics of eating disorders such as the obsession to have the perfect body image.
“Eating disorders are the most lethal mental illness in the United States,” Dorsa said.
“They kill 25 people a day on average, and most of that is because there is so much shame and stigma surrounding people being able to reach out for help or to even believe that recovery is possible.”
Dorsa became a recovery advocate to share his story and to let people know that no one should be ashamed to ask for help.
College can create the perfect storm for students to develop disordered eating, Dorsa said.
“College is a lot of transition, a lot of new responsibility, a lot of young adulthood pressures, so it’s a very vulnerable time for students to develop a disorder because usually eating disorders are a way to cope with things that are happening in your life that may feel unmanageable,” Dorsa said.
According to the Collegiate Survey Project, which is administered by the National Eating Disorder Association, 25 percent of males and 32 percent of females on college campuses engage in eating disorder behaviors, Dora said.
Recovery treatment at the center includes help with nutrition and family and group counseling, which are administered by mental health and dietary professionals, Dorsa said.
“So many people think recovery is a straight shot from Point A to Point B, but it’s not,” Dorsa said.
The National Eating Disorder Association provides information at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.
Students interested in becoming a recovery advocate or who need a consultation can visit www.eatingrecoverycenter.com or call 210-920-0001.