The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Sam Thomas Headshot

From Anorexia Sufferer to Body Builder: Same Illness, A Different Guise?

Posted: Updated:

Last week I was truly concerned having read the story 'Former Anorexic Man Beats Eating Disorder To Become Bodybuilder' as reported Huffington Post. While it may seem 'inspirational' that 22 year-old Oliver Orchard went from anorexic to body-builder, it does raise some crucial questions...

My initial thoughts were whether the weight lifting could be expression of the same illness under a different guise? It's a provocative question to ask but one the immediately occurs to mind given his history with eating disorders. In the article it says: "But when he was 18 Oliver, prompted by his doctor and a former girlfriend, went to the gym and found a new 'addiction' - one he could focus on without putting his life at risk.

"There he met a strength coach and after initially putting some meat on his bones started to lift some weights." Surely the acknowledgement of his new 'addiction' indicates that body building isn't healthy, nor a solution to anorexia?

The focus on size and shape seems to suggests eating disorder is a physical illness, which it is not. By 'calorie loading' this is simply ignoring the underlying causes of anorexia - it may put on the weight, yes. However it does little to address the key factors or triggers linked to his eating disorder.

He goes onto say: "I started reading body building mags and based my diet around that so would eat things like oats and egg whites but also started eating food like ice cream.

"It was tough on my stomach because it had been so small but I was determined to put weight on."

Paul Donald, from Men and Boys Eating and Exercise Disorders Service - Scotland (MBEEDS), echoes similar views: "This article implies that Ollie was cured of anorexia on the premise that he is now focused on body building. Disordered eating however it may be labelled is a condition which many sufferers describe as a battle for control. The labels associated with eating disorder are all mental health conditions of which are fluid and a sufferer may experience some tendencies of another during their road to recovery."

Clearly body-building helped Oliver relieve him from the symptoms of anorexia to some extent. Body-building - as I understand it - is a lifestyle and not a coping mechanism for life's problems. It's a discipline that involves strict exercise regimes, nutrition and (hopefully) rest in order to increase tone and size.

Dr Stuart Murray, a worldwide expert on male body image, explained: "When we look at the literature over the last three decades we've seen the number of men dissatisfied with their body triple.

There's data suggesting men would be prepared to sacrifice years off their life for bigger biceps for instance which wasn't even heard of in the 70s or 80s, in the lay public at least."

For those that are shifting the goal post to increase their size to unrealistic and unsustainable proportions may be described as 'Bigorexic' (commonly described as 'Muscle Dysmorphia'). To put it simply Bigorexia is known as 'reverse anorexia' and further definition explained whereby: A body image disorder which results in men obsessing about building muscle and having the perfect body.

Despite most people being unfamiliar term, most will be aware of males who are pumping iron to overkill. According to the Dr Stuart Murray has estimated around 1% of the UK population has the illness or symptoms of it. In reality, it could be just a fraction of the real picture because many sufferers are too ashamed to seek treatment.

I'd like to think that Oliver has made a turn-around for the better but I'm doubtful. If he truly has than I'll eat my own words yet is it any wonder I'm cynical?

Given that exercise releases endorphins and makes us feel good, it makes sense that working out can be addictive. As a society we are led to assume exercise is good for us, we often forget that it can also be bad in excess. Oliver could be in danger of putting his overall health at risk, just to another extreme.

"I'm fit and healthy and focusing on doing something to my body that does not put my life at risk...Eating disorders are a bigger problem than people realise and all I would say is try and find something that can give you the same control and satisfaction", said Oliver.

From my view of view I'd say addiction to exercise is on par and equally damaging to alcohol, drugs or gambling. We need to better understand this so that those who are obsessively exercising as a 'healthy' alternative are aware. Like any other addiction, the long term health consequences can be destructive on the physical and mental health.

I quote one Huff Post reader: "At the end of the day there is only one way to be satisfied with what you see in the mirror, and that is to not care what you see in the mirror...."

For information on eating and exercise disorders go to: www.mengetedstoo.co.uk

Huff Post Home