BBC Interview with Gary A. Grahl (February 2007)

Transcript of Gary Grahl’s Interview with Julian Marshall of BBC World Service. (Used by permission. Copyright © 2007 BBC, London)

BBC: Underlying the current debate about whether or not size zero models should be banned from fashion catwalks is the whole issue of female body image, and the concern that those skinny thin models as a fashion ideal could lead to eating disorders among young women. But contrary to the long held belief that anorexia and bulimia are principally female afflictions, the first national survey in America to look at the problem, has found that a quarter of adults with these conditions are men.

Let’s hear first from Gary Grahl, from Wisconsin, who’s writing a book, due out later this year called “Skinny Boy: A Young Man’s Battle and Triumph Over Anorexia.”  How did he develop an eating disorder?


GG: When I was growing up, I was an athlete, and I was, what I consider, a typical, all-American boy, I was popular, I had really good grades, I had a loving family, I was very achievement oriented.  And as I continued to grow and develop through high school, the pressure started to get more intense for performance, for athletics, and for just fitting in… in general.  And, I also grew up in a family that was… we had a difficult time dealing with conflict, and feelings. And I was a people pleaser. I began to battle with that. And on the outside I had, you know, a happy face, like everything was all OK, and I was all put-together. But on the inside, I was beginning to feel very insecure and inadequate, and worthless, but I was just terrified to tell anybody this or reveal it to anybody.

BBC: How did these feelings become an eating disorder?

GG: Well, eventually as I continued to go, I started to find out that I could use food and exercise to control things in my life. I couldn’t control if people were going to be disappointed with me all the time, whether I struck out four times in a baseball game, but the one thing I could control, was my food and my exercise routines. And I got heavily involved in it. It started out, I was starting to train for professional baseball, and pretty soon, the exercise routines got more, and dieting got more, and my weight started to go down, and I started to feel this tremendous pride, and a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, like  “wow… I can do this!”  This is something I can control and it was under my power, and basically it became an addition. I went from 160 pounds, to 103.  And I’m 5 foot, 9 inches, so, it was a pretty significant weight loss.


BBC And did those around you understand what was happening to you?


GG Yes, they did. My parents knew something was going on, and my friends knew something was going on, because I was slowly isolating myself from my friends. But people were intimidated, they didn’t want to pry into my personal life, and finally my parents heard a radio program about some eating disorder symptoms,  and my mom immediately got me an evaluation at a local hospital, and they found out right away that I had anorexia, and it was only days later that I was hospitalized as an inpatient for the first time.  


BBC: Were you relieved that there was a possibility of being cured? 


GG: At that point, no. One thing that I didn’t like, was that my routine was interrupted. Now that I was in the hospital, I couldn’t exercise as much anymore, I had to eat the foods they wanted me to eat, so that, I did not like. But I knew, deep down, that something just didn’t seem right, but I didn’t want to admit to it.  And I looked in the mirror and I thought I was fat.  My skin was fat and I felt fat. And I just kept trying to lose more and more weight.  Another reason why I developed my eating disorder, and I learned these things when I went through my therapy, was that I was afraid to grow up. It was my way of avoiding being responsible as an adult, and being independent on my own.  Dating girls, so to speak, I just didn’t want to let people get too close to me, to find out who the real me was, because I thought they would reject me. And so, my E.D. was almost my excuse. It was my way to avoid certain responsibilities, and I felt safe.  4:22


BBC: That was Gary Grahl, author of Skinny Boy A Young Man’s Battle and Triumph Over Anorexia.”  And on the line now, Dr. Ted Weltzin, the director of ED services at Roger’s Memorial Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisonsin…. And is Gary’s story that of many men with E.D.


Ted: Yes, Gary’s story is really a very typical description of, not only the symptoms of anorexia nervosa, but the interplay of exercise, self esteem, how people develop ways of coping with stress, and how the E.D. can help people avoid dealing with their emotions, or issues around self esteem.


BBC: And are you surprised, as this latest survey suggests, that there are as many men with E.D. in the United States, and the number seems to be growing.


Ted:  No, I’m not surprised at all, we specialize in treating E.D. in men, and we see many, many calls coming in about this, and about 10 percent of the people we treat are males.  I thinks males are less likely to seek treatment  The studies suggest that there are more males out there, on a percentage basis, that are seeking treatment, as compared to females. And so, I think that the notion that this is a female illness, is incorrect. I think that, it is true, that women are more susceptible , but we really need to be aware of the risk of E.D. in men.


BBC:  Gary, there, was speaking of the psychological and emotional problems that led to an E.D.  Obviously that is similar the  case with  women, but are men as susceptible, ias it would seem, as female anorexics maybe are  to external images of what their body ought to look like?  


Ted: You, I don’t think we really know how impressionable young men are going to be, to the changes in the effective environment and the media on what is the ideal appearance.  I think that, this study does suggest that men are going to be more susceptible than we think, and I think that probably is similar to females, as advertising and unrealistic images are presented to men, particularly at a young age, I think we’ll find they are probably, just as, or close to, as susceptible to leading to things like eating disorders, as women. 


BBC: Dr. Ted Weltzin, director of E.D. services at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Milwaukee, in Wisconsin. And that’s it from this edition of News Hour, from me, Julian Marshall, and rest of the team in London. Good bye.