When Malcolm Portelli was diagnosed with anorexia as a teenager, he began to understand the implications of the mental illness differently to what we’d usually expect from sufferers. Why?
Malcolm makes up part of the small demographic of men who live with eating disorders, under-represented largely due to the fact that the illness is widely recognised as a “female-only” affliction
For Malcolm, it started slowly after the coming of age dawned and he realised it was no longer “cute” to be the chubby kid.
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“I was relatively healthy, I hadn’t cut out food at all in the beginning,” Malcolm explains of his introduction to the lifestyle inadvertently after what he thought was a shift to a healthier mindset.
He started to focus more on sports, something he wasn’t particularly interested in beforehand. This ultimately lead to him accelerating his daily exercise and slowly lowering his calorific intake. It went on until he got to a point at which he would be burning more calories than he was taking in, as his diet steadily shrank.
Malcolm’s friends and family were all part of his road to recovery, but as he says, “it was and still is very much a taboo”
For a man to be diagnosed with an eating disorder isn’t exactly unheard of, but there was next to no awareness back then, and there still isn’t much right now.
Based on his experiences, Malcolm had taken the initiative to build a community himself.
“It’s one of the hardest things for a man – to accept that he has an eating disorder – because it is seen widely as a women’s mental illness. When you’re told as a man you don’t believe it.”
Malcolm’s admission is a stark wake-up call not only to the industries concerned with treatment, but also to those of us who might not be aware of the instances in male eating disorders.
Malcolm was seen both by a GP, who undertook remedial tests of his blood levels and nutrients to make sure his body wasn’t deteriorating, and a psychotherapist who was “very open and very progressive.”
While he does thank his therapist for providing an outlook on the situation without bias, he does recall being told that they had still discussed the matter with his parents.
He admits to finding out that it was the first time his therapist had dealt with a male patient suffering from anorexia. But he does praise the efforts made, as he feels as though it was approached as if he was simply a teenager with an eating disorder and his gender hadn’t really come into play for the large part.
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It is in the identification and acknowledgement from others that Malcolm sees a dip in public response.
It isn’t that he feels as if anorexia and other eating disorders aren’t known about, but more so that they are predominately seen as a ‘woman illness’.
With EDS Malta, Malcolm wants to help others by opening a channel of communication for those suffering or affected by the spectrum of eating disorders we currently recognise globally.
“I want to help them, without pushing them, to share their stories,” Malcolm expresses, “it has been some time since my own ordeal but things do remain and sharing is great. I wanted to give people a light at the end of their tunnel.”
Malcolm is happy to accept anonymous contributions as well, as he understand the sensitivity of the topic. At the moment, he’s focusing on eating disorder support, as he found a general lack of information and resources on treatment and recovery for the diseases when he was experiencing the worst of it.
After a lot of research, Malcolm chose to launch the site, and his project, last month, and he’s already seen a significant change in the discussions surrounding males affected by eating disorders. He hopes that his efforts will leave a remarkable impression on the communities in Malta and help act as a reference point from here on out for those who may come into contact with such illnesses in any way.
Featured Image Photo Credit: The Independent