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River’s story

I was always a chubby child growing up, food always seemed like something that was there, for example… I didn’t have the best relationship with my father, my mother always had health issues and I was the “baby” of the family so I wasn’t old enough to engage in activities with my older brothers BUT food was always in the fridge, cookies were always available when I was watching TV alone.

I have always wanted to be an actor for as long as I can remember, entertaining and making people laugh and stepping in someone else’s shoes always interested me but we all know hollywood is as much about vanity, beauty & confidence as it is actual talent. The talent I had, the looks and confidence I lacked, severely. People always snicked when I shared my dream of being a successful actor. They said no one would hire an overweight Latino boy with zero confidence, and on top of that…I wasn’t good looking. But who is, going through their awkward puberty stage?

In high school I was at my absolute heaviest, I hated the way I looked and constantly compared myself to other, thinner people. I envied all the jocks who could walk around the locker room with their shirts off with confidence and no one would point, stare or laugh. We all know high school can be like a shark tank so I socially withdrew myself from any type of activity or school festivity.

Around the age of 16 my parents divorced and I instantly had to choose a side, I could’ve awkwardly stayed with my dad who I barely had a relationship with or my mom and her new boyfriend who I didn’t get along with. I am the type of guy who likes to be in control, I am very much independent and don’t like asking for help. So the summer before I turned 17, I secretly started dieting….at first it was harmless. Less junk food, smaller portions and workout sessions. The response I got from people was overwhelming and everyone seemed so happy for me…in fact, people seemed to notice me for the first time.

On the first day of 11th grade, a really nice friend of mine (who I secretly envied for his sports potential and female attention) approached me and told me how great I looked. I was ecstatic. I figured “Hey, if I get this much attention after losing some weight….imagine what they’d said if I lose even more weight” and that’s exactly what I did.

As family life became unbearable, the ONE thing I felt I had complete control over was my weight. I rarely eat, worked out for hours on end, took diet pills and cut out pretty much all fatty foods…I had a very strict diet and I usually purged after the meals I did eat. Being in complete control of something felt so good. The feeling of being stuffed or full completely disgusted me. If, as a family, we’d have an event or birthday dinner or something of the sort, I’d have to know where all the bathrooms or exits were so I could eat, and then quietly slip away and force myself to vomit. I hid it so well. But after awhile people started to notice something was wrong, they said I looked sick and frail…at this point I learned to stay away from all mirrors so in reality I didn’t know what I looked like. My peers would ask me if I was sick, anorexic or was doing drugs and in return I’d get absolutely livid.

I lived my whole life in the shadows and now that I was skinnier than the people that I once WISHED I looked like…everyone was going to rain on my parade? I wasn’t having it. I was getting a lot of female attention, my confidence was high, I felt like a normal teen boy but in reality, my life soon revolved around every single thing I put into my mouth, every calorie consumed, how I’d work off the very few calories I’d had earlier.

Around this time, I had done a photoshoot and booked a music video and knew it was all because of the weight I’d lost. Those moments made me feel like a million bucks but around this time I was getting ready to start college so I started to go school shopping. New school, new found confidence, and new look…I was going to start college looking amazing, so I thought. I started shopping for clothes and realized I was fitting into jeans I wore when i was a pre-teen, I had to buy a few shirts from the “boys section” instead of men’s and looking at myself in those dressing room mirrors really opened my eyes. My hair was thin, my arms looked like tooth picks, my face was sunken in and you could see my hips bones, rib cage, etc. I looked like I had a serious disease. This is when I knew I had a problem and there was no simple “off switch”.

My eating disorder became my whole life…who was I if I didn’t work out all day or sit around for hours counting calories? What would people say if I gained weight back? Would I lose respect? On top of that, I always thought my condition, which I later found out was bulimia, was a “females disease”. How would I tell my friends and family…. I mean, how embarrassing, right? I didn’t want to talk about it with a doctor because all the research I had done had talked about treatment centers and group therapy sessions for WOMEN. I thought I was screwed so I continued on and hid my problem for a couple more months until I started getting heart palpitations, the rumors started, friends started catching on and I was literally driving myself crazy going to sleep and waking up with food and dieting on my mind. It was all I focused on. So I finally spoke up and got help. I realized I had lost a lot of weight. I was put on medication and the road to recovery wasn’t easy, in fact it was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. You have to get comfortable with gaining weight back, eating properly, stray away from working out so much and being monitored.

Three years later I’d be lying if I said I still don’t have urges or if I still don’t slip up on occasion but overall, recovery is beautiful. I’m comfortable in my skin, I know now that weight and looks don’t define who you are or your potential to succeed in life. Naturally, I’m a little heavier than I’d like to be but I am the absolute healthiest I’ve ever been. I am now am actor, I do music videos and independent films and I am even a part time model. I am also a spokeperson for depression which I realize ultimately led to my disorder. It’s been brought to my attention that male eating disorders are on the rise and it saddens me, I don’t wish an eating disorder on anybody. Most men refrain from seeking help because they think it’s a girls disease but it’s not, it’s a HUMAN disease.

Don’t be afraid to speak up, know you’re not alone and you’re a lot stronger than you think. Life after this is achievable and we as young men, need to stick together, encourage each other and raise awareness.

 Eric

'Men Get Eating Disorders Too' is a registered charity in England and Wales no. 1139351.

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