Anorexia in boys an overlooked condition

Anorexia in boys an overlooked condition

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by Abbey Gibb

kgw.com

Posted on May 21, 2012 at 10:00 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 22 at 8:13 AM

PORTLAND -- It's the face of anorexia you haven’t seen - teenage boys. Not something as a society we talk about or maybe even know exists, but it does and may be growing at an alarming rate.

"I love to train. I love to do workouts," Eric Lagerstrom said catching his breath. 

Most mornings for Eric Lagerstrom start on a SW Portland track.

"Anywhere between 25 miles a week. 70 on some weeks. Always just loved to compete," he said while stretching his legs across a nearby bench. "I want to be the first person, I want to be the best."

Training as a professional tri athlete, Eric has Olympic goals.

"Some people might call it obsessive."

An obsession that almost cost him his life.

"Just always questioning myself, could I do this a little bit better? A little bit better? Can I change something?"

In just a few short months, Eric would change into a man he would barely recognize. It started midway through his freshman year at Portland's Cascade College. Eric got a full ride on a track scholarship.

"I'd get comments like, 'Hey, that was a really good time, maybe if you'd drop 10 pounds think about how fast you’d be.' It went from I need to get lighter to get faster, to so fixated on lighter."

Eric began eating less than half of what he needed and ramped up his workouts to seven days a week, sometimes twice a day. In just five months, "the weight started just flying off."

He dropped 45 pounds. From 180 to 135.

"It just kinda went out of control. It became a challenge to walk up stairs."

He tried to stop.

"As much as I would stand there, wanting to, there was an equally if not stronger force inside that wouldnt let me do it."

Eric had anorexia. He called his parents.

"It was probably the most difficult conversation I've ever had to have. It took multiple attempts to get the word "anorexia" out. Still, still, it's not the easiest thing."

Together they decided to find help. They ended up at Portland's Kartini Clinic.

"Boys have eating disorders more commonly than we ever thought," said Kartini Clinic founder, Dr. Julie O'Toole.

Kartini is one of the only eating disorder centers in the world to treat boys. One out of every 10 who walk through the doors will be boys.

"Parents do not cause eating disorders and children do not chose to have them. These are brain disorders. They are highly heritable," added Dr. O'Toole.

By the time Eric arrived at Kartini, he had been starving himself for a year and a half. Doctors rushed him to the hospital

"They diagnosed him to be one step away from cardiac arrest," said Eric's father Joseph as he fought tears.

"There is so much guilt. There is so much guilt associated with this," he then paused as grief falls over his face. "You can look at yourself afterwards and say that you should have known."

Doctors say the signs are easy to miss. Anorexic boys can look perfect, like Eric.

"You're studying all the time, you're losing weight, you're exercising too much. They will channel their obsession towards health. They may appear to eat, but they're not eating enough to make up for their uptick in activity," pointed out Dr. O'Toole.

Five years after it all started, Eric still weighs out his food but now it's to make sure he's getting enough. He's learned his impulses. He knows this athlete's body needs fuel.

"I have to readjust my thinking. Something that I tell myself a lot is, 'Be fast, not light.

Anorexia doesn't care if you're a boy or girl, it kills 10 percent of all who suffer from it indiscriminately. That's comparable to many childhood cancers.

Eric said he still fights what he calls "dark thoughts" pretty often, but vows to use that same determination to stay healthy.

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