20% of Anorexics Are Men

Twenty percent. And rising. More and more men are starving themselves to death in a pathological pursuit of perfection. Male anorexics have much in common with women who suffer from the same debilitating illness, but there’s a striking difference: For the vast majority of men, help is not on the way.

When food is served, John eats as if it’s a relearned behavior, as if he’s a robot trying to pass as human. He tells me he eats only because not eating will trigger a sequence of events that begins with him losing his job: “And if I lose the job…” Mordantly he observes that he still reads articles about the Golden Gate Bridge to see “whether or not they’ve ever gotten around to installing that suicide barrier.” He calls it his Plan C.

We stand apart from the other guests for a moment, and John startles me by saying, abruptly, that he’s decided to settle his lawsuit. Monte Nido has hired new lawyers, and in his view they’re no longer arguing the case on its merits; instead, he says, they’re strategically outspending him. John can’t afford to depose their out-of-state witnesses or to hire his own experts. He knows that a judgment against him would have a chilling effect on future litigation of this kind, so he’s reached out to Monte Nido through a mediator. The terms of the settlement will be confidential. John likens himself to the John Travolta character in A Civil Action, who runs out of money fighting three giant corporations that have contaminated the water supply of a Massachusetts town. At the end of the movie, Travolta packs up his files and mails them to the EPA, hoping someone there will finish what he started.

John tells me he still feels fat all the time. The goal is to not think this way—he knows that. “But the people I know who have gone through treatment and say they’re at that point? This is going to sound awful, but they’re fat.” Is it possible, I ask him, that he might feel differently if he had a partner who loved him? He snorts. “It’s kind of like saying, ‘Once you’re on the moon, what’s it going to be like to look at the earth?’ Ask me when I get there.”

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