“In my head, restricting food meant I’d be accepted better by people that I met. “
For some, eating disorders can be triggered by trauma. And that’s how it all started for Chris S.
After being both physically and verbally abused at school, Chris developed anorexia nervosa in an attempt to beat the bullies at their own game. They would tease him about his weight. They thought he was too quiet and reserved.
So at the age of 16, Chris started to restrict his meals and snacks, hoping it would get the bullies off his back. What really stung? Some of the boys who taunted him were supposed to be his friends.
“I felt quite betrayed,” Chris explains, “but I didn’t defend myself or tell anyone.” The school didn’t offer any help, and he didn’t want to worry his mum.
A year later, Chris was admitted as an inpatient at a CAMHS unit. His mum had noticed a serious change in him and spoken with his GP — who referred Chris for specialist treatment.
At the time, Chris wasn’t willing to accept the help. He’d never heard of anorexia and he didn’t understand his diagnosis. But after a month as an in-patient, he developed a close attachment to his ward. To the safety it provided and the staff who treated him.
Six months later, Chris admits he didn’t want to go home. He’d made friends, he was more stable and he’d gained weight. He was acknowledged for putting in the hard work and being ‘the perfect patient’.
All of which made him feel like he belonged.
Of course, he did leave. He went on to study for a chef diploma, which was “one the best experiences” he’d had. He loved learning how to do basic things around the kitchen, and having the work experience. But it all got too much.
The hours, the stress, the lack of breaks. It wasn’t sustainable for his recovery. So he finished the year and moved on to work at Sainsbury’s, where he stayed for almost five years.
It’s his manager, he adds, that made him feel supported throughout that time. While he didn’t really understand eating disorders and thought Chris should ‘just eat’, he tried to support him as best he could.
He’d encourage regular breaks so Chris could stick to his meal plans, and fostered a work environment in which Chris felt safe enough to open up about his mental health.
Since then, Chris has had a few hospital admissions, but he’s positive that he can beat the eating disorder.
In 2017, he also started studying for a mental health nursing degree (which he’s about to complete). And once he’s fully recovered, his goal is to work in the eating disorder space.
He wants to give back the support he received from his nurses, and give others hope that things can get better.
He also has big goals when it comes to healing his relationship with food. Chris is after all, a master baker, and he wants to enjoy his cakes with the rest of his family. More than anything though, he wants to take part in The Great British Bake-Off (and has applied almost every year since it started). So if you’re reading this Paul Hollywood, you know what to do.
Until Chris graces our screens with his signature Banoffee pie, he’ll dedicate himself to working with addictions, which he feels are very similar to eating disorders.
His message to other men who are struggling with body image, bullying or disordered eating? “Try not to downplay your struggles. You’re worthy of support. You really are.”
Any amount you can give, no matter how small, helps us bust toxic stereotypes and reach more men like Chris.