Sam Dylan Finch 🍓 @samdylanfinch Mental health & chronic conditions @Healthline. 🌱 Very earnest, very gay nerd. 🌈♿ Sep. 03, 2019 5 min read

I've seen an article making the rounds, regarding a trans teenager who "beat" his eating disorder by becoming a body builder.

Sharing this story is harmful for a bunch of reasons, and as a trans person with an eating disorder, I want to explain why.

I want to preface this by saying I don't know this man personally, so I can't speak to his recovery beyond what was outlined in this article.

The *article itself,* though, has enough red flags that we need to think about the impact of sharing it.

For starters, the article has a bunch of eating disorder triggers that shouldn't be included in *any* kind of media coverage of eating disorders, including a "before" photo, weight count, calorie count... details that are considered harmful for any content about EDs.

So from a baseline, it's not written in a way that is sensitive to folks who are actively in their eating disorders. That is reason enough not to share it.

But the story itself... as I said... red flags. Many, many red flags.

It is extremely common for folks with one eating disorder (like anorexia) to shift to other disorders. It is very questionable to present fitness/body-building as the "cure" for an eating disorder... when, in fact, compulsive fitness can be disordered, like we see in orthorexia.

The article makes no mention of actual ED treatment. At 16, he has a restrictive ED. Now, at age 18, he's a body builder. That is not only someone VERY early on in "recovery" — but that's someone who is obsessively pursuing fitness immediately after a restrictive ED.

There is no mention of treatment, just about finding "acceptance" in the "body building community." That is not treatment. Nor is going to the gym "six times per week."

Presenting fitness as a way of "beating" an ED is dangerous. Period.

Again, I can't speak to his particular recovery, but I can speak to how this article was written. And it presents body-building as a way OUT of an eating disorder. When in reality, it just sounds like trading anorexia for orthorexia, which we see happen in EDs all the time.

It is absolutely not advisable, ever, that someone who has a restrictive eating disorder go from malnourishment to excessive exercise. That is not a pathway that is safe for someone whose body has been under extreme duress and needs to repair itself.

Refeeding (reintroducing food to a malnourished body), which is necessary for recovery, should never be accompanied by purging behaviors (which includes excessive exercise). This doesn't allow the body to heal.

This also can morph into disordered thinking, in which eating is okay, AS LONG AS it is accompanied by high amounts of physical activity. This is exactly how eating disorders morph from one form to another. This is why folks with EDs are often told to "rest and digest."

Access to recovery, especially trans-informed care, is difficult. I know this firsthand. But that being said, everything the article described — and the timeframe it presented — is absolutely unsafe.

Folks with EDs are supposedly to slowly, gradually, and ideally with medical supervision and mental health support, reintroduce physical activity. You don't want to strain the heart, for example, which can be damaged due to disordered eating.

Again, for all I know, this person had all the support in the world, introduced it slowly, underwent refeeding safely, etc etc etc. The article, though, doesn't hold that at all. It makes no mention of treatment — just that fitness is how he "beat his eating disorder."

To go from extreme restriction to competitive bodybuilder in two years... I can't reconcile sharing a story like that, no matter how supportive I want to be of folks in my community.

I am concerned about his health and the impact of sharing this story.

We need to remember, too, that body building and fitness are what obscure eating disorders for many men. And I fear just how many men, ESPECIALLY trans men, abuse physical activity in a misguided attempt to redirect an eating disorder and, for trans men, cope with dysphoria.

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses with a high mortality rate. And before we proclaim someone "recovered" and hoist them up as a success story, we need to ask ourselves whether or not the narrative, as written, will help or harm someone actively in their disorder.

If someone is very recently "in recovery," engaging in behaviors that are clinically disordered, and not, to anyone's knowledge, receiving adequate care and treatment... it should go without saying that it's best not to position that narrative as "aspirational."

The fact that there was no self-aware piece of it, acknowledging the risks of high-impact fitness for someone very recently "in recovery" and malnourished, tells me that there was no one involved in the creation of this content that knows how to responsibly cover this topic.

Don't share it. Please, please don't share it. The last thing folks with EDs need is greater justification for disordered behavior. And the last thing trans men with EDs need is to be told that if they're struggling with their bodies, disordered behavior is the best option.

Someone DM'd me this guy's YouTube/insta accounts and... my god. It's a fitspo hellscape, including videos on weight loss, encouraging people to photograph their body every few days... this is someone who is clearly still "in it." I'm so mad that this article was pub'd.

And I'm also just angry that we live in a world where eating disorders are so misunderstood, and fatphobia is SO rampant, that these are presented as ED recovery "success" stories... and that folks aren't getting the care and support that they need. They're getting press instead.

As someone who a number of times tries to "pilates" and "strength train" and "vegan" my way out of anorexia... this needs to stop. Recovery is not a lifestyle or a crutch disguised as a fad. Recovery is a commitment that requires much, MUCH deeper work.

If these big pubs profiting off of orthorexic "success stories" used even a fraction of their resources to raising AWARENESS around eating disorders and challenging fatphobia, they could have real success stories that didn't endanger people's lives. But diet industry = $$$ sooo.

So many vulnerable trans men, with bodily trauma on so many levels, are being told that orthorexic ""fitness"" behavior will heal their relationships to their body... it hurts to see because so often it's just toxic masculinity and internalized transphobia, merging with an ED.

And to see trans folks reposting it with #goals... it reminds me of why I speak so loudly about my own eating disorder. Many of us really, really don't believe we can have EDs to begin with. It's heartbreaking.

You can follow @samdylanfinch.


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