Eating Disorders Can — and Do — Kill

February 1, 2012 Angela E. Gambrel

On Friday, my psychiatrist told me that a fellow eating disorders patient recently died.

To say I was stunned would be an understatement.

Eating Disorders Can Strike Anyone

I flew to Rogers Memorial Hospital for my first inpatient treatment in June 2008. I — like many people — had the misconception that eating disorders was mainly a disease that struck women. However, I was very surprised to find several men on the unit. Men who were struggling with anorexia and bulimia. Men who were emaciated and connected to feeding tubes. Men who could potentially die of their eating disorders.

I only stayed for twenty-four hours because I still had trouble admitting to myself that I did have anorexia and that I needed treatment. However, that image of men also struggling with eating disorders stayed with me.

Men Get Eating Disorders, Too

As I have written in previous blog posts, I decided to enter inpatient treatment for anorexia, alcohol, and prescription drug abuse on December 26. The eating disorder patients typically spend a lot of time together while on the unit, and that is how I met a man I will call by his initials, JH.

JH was unusual in the eating disorder world in several ways. He was male. He was covered from head to toe with tattoos. He was a chef and loved to eat. And he was bulimic.

What is sad is that an increasing number of men are developing eating disorders as the ongoing pressure to be thin is put on both men and women. According to one set of eating disorder statistics released in 2009, the number of men hospitalized with an eating disorder increased by thirty seven percent over the course of one year 2005 and 2006. And that is only the men we know about — eating disorders thrive in secrecy and I can imagine that many men struggle with coming forth and admitting that they have an eating disorder.

Eating Disorders Can Kill

I'd like to say that I was always kind and compassionate towards JH. However, I was not. He got on my last nerve by offering me food, and one day I ended up yelling at the table: "I am a recovering anorexic and I don't like food!" Of course, that's not the case. I do like food; I just don't want to eat it.

He was very mercurial, and was also going through withdrawal from drugs. He could be shouting profanities one minute, and apologizing profusely the next. We did sometimes get along, and we wished each other well when we were both discharged on New Year's Day.

He also could be rather amusing. One day, the phlebotomist came to draw his blood and he said she would have to tie him down in order to stick a needle in him. Laughing, I pointed out that he had about a million tattoos and that required needles. He said that was different.

When I was told the news of his death, my heart sank and I was stunned. This is the second person I have known to die of an eating disorder — my friend, Annemarie, died in November of anorexia. I find it frightening that I am still struggling with an illness that could have killed me.

Rest in peace, JH. I hope that you have finally found a place where there is no bulimia or drugs; a place where you can rest and be accepted for who you are. I just wish I would have made it a little easier for you.

(Eating Disorder Help: Where to Get Help for Eating Disorders?)

APA Reference
Gambrel, A. (2012, February 1). Eating Disorders Can — and Do — Kill, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Angela E. Gambrel

February, 3 2012 at 12:31 pm

I am so sorry for your loss. My heart goes out to all those who loved your friend.
Thank you for even talking about death and eating disorders. My sister died of bulimia in 2002. Her death certificate didn't reflect that fact and make no mistake, her 15 year battle with bulimia is what killed her. Ending the silence, educating and bringing awareness is vitally important. Thank you for your reflection.

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