The Battle Within

Photo: Alan Decker

A Marine veteran breaks the silence behind male anorexia.

While serving in the Marine Corps, E-4 Officer Colt Gordon was nicknamed “Superman” by his fellow servicemen due to his dedication to working out. But behind the muscles was a secret: Gordon suffered from a severe eating disorder.

“At one point I was only eating apples and pears and obsessively working out,” says Gordon, a patient at UC San Diego Health.

While most people associate eating disorders with women, millions of men and boys in the United States battle all forms of the illness. The National Association for Males with Eating Disorders reports that 25 to 40 percent of people with eating disorders are male.

“While male patients often have similar personality characteristics as their female peers, they experience significantly more barriers to treatment,” says Erin Parks, Ph.D., director of outreach and admissions with the UC San Diego Eating Disorders Center for Treatment and Research.

For instance, Gordon’s eating disorder was complicated by the fact that he never experienced significant weight loss. “I was complimented on how I looked physically, and it motivated me to continue down this path,” he says.

It’s a common misconception that eating disorders are diagnosed by appearance. “Many people struggling with eating disorders are of average weight,” says Parks.

After battling his disorder for six years, Gordon entered the UC San Diego Eating Disorders Center for Treatment and Research, one of the only nonprofit, university-based treatment centers in the nation that focuses on using scientific findings to improve understanding and treatment of eating disorders.

“Neuroimaging research has shown that eating disorders are based in the brain,” says Parks. “Brains are ‘wired’ to have certain personality traits that increase someone’s susceptibility to eating disorders.”

Gordon began working with a psychiatrist, dietician and therapist, and attended group sessions as well. Now two years after starting treatment, Gordon is training to be a therapist and has become a mental health advocate in the community.

“I will never be cured of my eating disorder, but the treatment I received saved me,” says Gordon. “I may not be Superman, but I’m now very passionate about sharing my story to help others going through a similar journey.”