Penn State

Penn State grad helps raise awareness of male eating disorders

Brian Cuban opened this week’s Love Your Body campaign on campus with his personal story of eating disorders, drug addiction and recovery.

For the class of 1983 alum, Monday was his first time back on campus since he graduated.

Cuban, a Dallas lawyer and activist who wrote the popular book, “Shattered Image: My Triumph Over Body Dysmorphic Disorder,” brought a message to the HUB Freeman Auditorium audience Monday night that students should empower others to have a positive body message and speak up if they are struggling.

Cuban had a strange way of making satire out of his adversities. He said he was an anorexic at age 18, bulimic at age 19, an alcoholic at age 22, and then he began to abuse drugs such as cocaine and steroids.

The biggest difference in eating disorders between men and women is the stigma attached to men, Cuban said in a phone interview Friday. Some 20 percent to 25 percent of people with eating disorders are men, he said, but their eating disorders get less attention and scrutiny from society.

“I had been suffering since I was 19,” he said. “[Eating disorders] have been around for 100 years, and it was never diagnosed or talked about when I was going through it.”

He said he developed an eating disorder as a freshman at Penn State. His affliction, body dysmorphic disorder, is a mental illness that involves the belief that one’s appearance is unusually defective. When he looked in the mirror, he said, he saw a fat little boy.

Cuban said he got into exercise and developed exercise bulimia, which is excessive exercise to offset calories, in addition to traditional bulimia, which includes purging and binging.

Cuban said his family knew about his drug and alcohol abuse but was not aware of his eating disorder until he discussed it publicly.

Although they were supportive, he said it shocked him to realize he was more comfortable talking about his drug and alcohol problem than about his eating disorder. Cuban said he has been in recovery since 2007.

Cuban spoke of the troubling relationship he had with his mother — although not blaming her for his problems — he said it definitely had an impact on his mental state. He said he knew he could not speak with his father about his issues with his mother, because his mother would be chosen over him.

As a young boy at age 13, he developed depression because he could not find love from his brothers or his parents.

“We have to drop that wall of shame and allow someone to help us. It is hard; it was hard for me but it must be done,” Cuban said in a phone interview. “My mind created this fiction that nobody would help, but people do care.”

Resources for help on campus include the University Health Service. Love Your Body week was created by Penn State HEALS (healthy eating and living support), a team of physicians, dietitians and mental health providers.

Health service dietitian Stacy Jones said in an interview last week that some students come in for anxiety or depression or because they want to eat healthier. “And then we notice that there are other things going on,” she said.

A common sign of someone suffering from an eating disorder is constantly going to the gym, Jones said.

“People who often feel the need to go the gym compulsively have a drive telling them, ‘You have to go to the gym. You do not have a choice,’” she said, and it is not a drive to be healthier, it is a drive to burn calories to lose weight.

Among resources in the community is an eating disorder recovery group that supports men and women concerned about their eating behavior or that of a friend. It meets at 5:30 p.m. on Mondays in the Collegiate Recovery Community Room, 105 Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on the Penn State campus.

Another is Overeaters Anonymous, a recovery program for compulsive eating. There are no charges or dues or fees; it is self-supporting through member contributions. It meets on Saturdays at 10 a.m. at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 208 W. Foster Ave., in State College.