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HIDDEN PAIN OF MALE ANOREXIC: I wanted to stay a little boy...that was a lot less frightening than being a grown up; How `Peter Pan' Jonathan beat deadly eating disease.


LIKE Peter Pan, he never wanted to grow up. Jonathan Hill is the boy who starved himself to the brink of death so he wouldn't have to face the pain of adulthood.

Anorexia is thought of as a girls' disease but Jonathan, 20, is one of a growing number of boys falling victim to the eating disorder.

One in ten sufferers is male and the average age of boys with the disease is 11.

This New Year, Jonathan will sit down to a homecooked meal with his family, a slim but healthy young man. But for many years he was unable to join in the festivities, caught in the grip of an illness that saw his weightplummettofourandahalfstones. Jonathanhas battled anorexia since he was 14.

He said: ``I had started going through puberty. Parts of me were changing that I didn't want to change. I wanted to stay a little boybecause that wascomforting and much less frightening than growing up.''

Now nine stones, 5 ft 7 in Jonathan has a healthy glow and shiny blond hair. He has come a long way from the gaunt, painfully-thin teenager who had to be admitted to hospital, so weak he had to be spoon fed.

Jonathan, of Blantyre, Lanarkshire, said: ``When I weighed under five stone, I had reached the stage where I wanted to die and I thought I would. It was so degrading.

``Anorexia has taken such a huge chunk out of my life. I lost everything because of it. I feel awkward and inadequate because people in my age group have achieved so much more than I have.

``I want people to understand that anorexia is a mental health illness that can affect anyone. It doesn't matter what gender, colour or sexual orientation you are, you can still suffer from it.''

Jonathan's problems started when he moved to a new school. He said: ``My life was changing and I didn't like it. I'd started a new school and mum had taken up a full-time job. I did have a good group of friends but they were mainly female and I was bullied at school.

``I tried everything I could to fit in. I even attemptedtoputonweightso I couldbebig like the other boys but I just ended up hating myself more.''

His self-esteem andconfidencedropped drastically. Feeling his life was out of control, he put himself on a strict diet.

Breakfast was a cup of coffee or hot water and he didn't eat lunch. At home he would hide food in hankies and throw it away when his mum wasn't looking.

Despite realising he wasn't healthy, he got a buzz from being thin.

He said: ``Not eating gave me a sense of control over my life. I felt brilliant when I lost a lot of weight, like I'd really achieved something. I picked at things and some-times I craved chocolate. But as soon as I ate something I'd feel so guilty I wouldn't touch anything for days afterwards. Then I couldn't force myself to eat at all.''

By Christmas 1998, Jonathan weighed six and a half stone. He had stopped going to school and sat his Standard Grades at home because classmates called him Mr Anorexic, even though he tried to hide his skinny body beneath baggy clothes. His family became increasingly worried.

He said: ``At first I don't think Mum wanted to admit there was a serious problem and just hoped it would go away.

``But she did tell me to see my doctor. The problem is GPs don't recogniseanorexia in men. They assume it's something else.

``One doctor asked me if I was a runner and another told me to eat a Mars Bar and drink a pint of milk every day.

``Another decided I had depression which had caused my anorexia and tried to treat that.''

Eventually he was referred to a dietician and sent for counselling. But the sessions were not targeted at male suffers.

Jonathan said: ``I wanted to dealwithmy anorexia but I wasn't sure how to. It was a very sad and lonely time.

``The people at the sessions were all women. I would have been a lot more comfortable if there had been some other men in the group.''

In August 1999, Jonathan, then 16, was admitted to Glasgow Royal Infirmarysuffering from severe dehydration. After treatment he was transferred to the psychiatric unit at Gartnavel Hospital, Lanarkshire, where he spent the next eight months.

While there, he forced himself to eat to trick the hospital into believing he was trying to beat his illness.

Jonathan said: ``The unit ran a punishment and reward system. If I ate I was allowed to see my family but if I refused I couldn't have any visitors.

``Eventually I realised if I ate I'd see my family and could leave the hospital. I managed to put on half a stone and was discharged at Christmas.''

Over the next few years Jonathan's weight fluctuated between four and a half stone and 9st 4 lbs his target weight.

He hit rock bottom when he turned 18 and his weight dropped to under 5st. Hisfamily feared he would die. Readmitted to the Royal, nurses tried to spoonfeed him. His desperate parents pleaded with the hospital to tube-feed him but Jonathan refused to consent.

After nine months Jonathan was released from hospital, weighing eight and a half stones.

But he began exercising obsessively and being sick after meals and the weight began to fall off again.

By now his obsessive dieting had damaged his digestive system, preventing him absorbing necessary vitamins. He even punctured a lung with a protruding rib while exercising.

The turning point came last June when he was admitted to the Priory rehabilitation clinic in Glasgow and met two other male anorexics. Until then Jonathan hadbelieved he was alone in his battle. Jonathan said: ``The Priory was excellent. I had group support and group therapy and this time it helped because I didn't feel alone. I realised other men could suffer from anorexia, too.

``I had been waiting for other people to help me but I realised I had to do it myself. I had to change.''

Jonathan left the Priory in May, weighing nine stones, and says he feels better now than he has ever done.

A typical day for him now starts with porridge with fruit and soya milk. For lunch he will have soup with rye bread and at dinner a tofu and vegetable stir-fry and ice-cream or soya dessert. He snacks on fruit, raw vegetables and cereal bars.

He has started a distance-learning course in biochemistry. Jonathan said: ``Iwould be lying if I didn't say I find everyday life an effort. Sometimes I am hit by very low moods and I find life a struggle.

``I don't know if I will ever be free from the disease. Doctors have told me it has stunted my growth I have only grown two inches in the last six years.

``The diet industry is targeted at females and, as a result, women find it easier to talk about body image and the problem of anorexia.

``Anorexia is seen as a female illness. Guys get embarrassed about it.

``I know it's up to me to beat this illness but the support network has to be there.''

Jonathan is looking forward to New Year. ``This is a very food orientated time so it isn't easy, '' he said. ``I will sit down to festive dinners but that's only because it's with my family and I know them andtrust them. There are certain situations that I need to protect myself from, like going out for dinner with a big group of friends. I couldn't face that yet, I'm not ready.

``Christmas has been a stressful time and I have had to refuse a lot of invitations out because I'm not strong enough yet.

``But I have improved and moved on from previous New Years so hopefully next year will be even better.''

If you are worried about anorexia, you can contact Childline on 0800 1111 or Lines are open 24 hours a day.

Or you can call the Eating Disorders Association youth helpline on 0845 6347650 between 4 pm and 6.30 pm Monday to Friday. Open 10.30 am to 2 pm New Year's Eve. Closed New Year's Day.


Healthy: Jonathan, right, smiles, a far cry from gaunt look he had when he was younger; Gaunt: Jonathan wears baggy clothes to conceal his body when he was 5 1 /2st
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 28, 2003
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