"I felt broken and defective": Worrying scale of male anorexia revealed as victims tell their heartbreaking stories


'I felt broken and defective': Worrying scale of male anorexia revealed as victims tell their heartbreaking stories

When you hear the word 'anorexia', images of stick thin girls poring over fashion magazines and headlines about underweight models are among those that spring to mind.

But one recovering anorexic, Victor Avon, has spoken out about the unacknowledged dangers of the illness among young men and society's misconception that it is a strictly female-related issue.

Mr Avon, 28, from Brick, New Jersey, fell victim to the life threatening mental disorder when he was an overweight high school student and is only one of millions of boys like him.

Fat kid: Victor Avon was always overweight as a child

Victor Avon as an adult

Puppy fat: Victor Avon's quest to lose weight became an obsession that spiralled out of control. Now he's speaking out about the dangers of anorexia among males and the misconception that it affects only women

According to the National Eating
Disorders Association, at least one million men in the United States are
battling anorexia or bulimia.

But statistics
are uncertain because of the stigma attached to the disorder
and the figure would most probably be far higher if the amount of male
sufferers who hadn't sought help were factored in.

Mr Avon, who has been stable for four
years, explained this further as he recalled trying to find information
about anorexia online. Seeing only advice and data relating to women he
felt 'less of a man…broken and defective.'

So afraid of being judged, he hid his illness for a lot longer than he should have, a common story according to Dr. James Lock, a psychiatrist at
Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.

Victor Avon and his now wife Lindsey in high school before he started losing weight

Victor Avon and his now wife Lindsey in high school before he started losing weight

Oblivious: Lindsey Avon had no idea that her boyfriend could be suffering from anorexia but in fact at least one million boys today are victims of the illness

Oblivious: Lindsey Avon had no idea that her boyfriend could be suffering from anorexia but in fact at least one million boys today are victims of the illness

'Boys
don't get identified,' he told MSNBC. 'They come later to treatment.
They have therefore had longer time to lose weight so they're physically
sicker.

'Sometimes that's allowed the psychological processes to be more reinforced in their own thinking and the behaviors.'

One such tragic patient who fell prey to the psychological trap of anorexia was TJ Warschefsky, a young boy from Michigan who became ill in 1999 aged 14.

Susan Barry, TJ's mother, talked about her son's obsession with perfectionism and hunger for control that eventually took over his ability to reason and finally, his life at the age of 22.

Skinny teen: TJ Warschefsky (right) was 14 when he fell victim to anorexia, a battle that ended in his death eight years later

Skinny teen: TJ Warschefsky (right) was 14 when he fell victim to anorexia, a battle that ended in his death eight years later

'I
think there's a point in this illness where the obsession and the
control turns to complete out of control,' she said. 'The illness takes
control. And they become possessed.'

TJ weighed 78 when his heart stopped beating in the middle of his nightly routine of 1,000 sit-ups

TJ weighed 78 when his heart stopped beating in the middle of his nightly routine of 1,000 sit-ups

TJ weighed a frightening 78lbs when in the middle of his nightly routine of 1,000 sit-ups, his heart gave out.

Mr
Avon, who now councils youngsters struggling with the same issues that
led him down the slippery slope to anorexia, told MSNBC: 'The reality of
anorexia is that it is a psychological illness that does not
discriminate.

'It kills and it does not care
who it kills. It's got the highest mortality rate of any mental
illness. But the education isn't there and the support isn't there.'

Awareness is what he, Susan Barry and
other families of anorexia patients, are trying so hard to promote.
Though Mr Avon was fortunate to receive treatment at a program for young
men at Princeton University Medical Center, TJ was not so lucky.

It took Mrs Barry over a
year to find help more than two hours away from their home and though
ultimately medical help couldn't save TJ, she believes that: 'Just like
cancer or any other disease, early detection is key.'

Even Victor Avon's wife, Lindsey, who he
was dating throughout his illness, now admits: 'In my mind I never
thought anorexia. I thought, I don 't even know what I thought. I
thought that it was a diet gone bad maybe, a diet gone awry. I just
never thought that you know an eating disorder would hit my husband.'