Weight Of The World

Living Up To Today's Image Of The Ideal Male Leads Some Men Down The Desperate Road Of Eating Disorders

If you read fitness magazines, chances are you've seen Owen McKibbin. He is one of the top male models in the country.

"He's what we see as a perfect kind of Mens' Health cover model," says Dave Zinczenko, the editor of Mens' Health, who has handpicked McKibbin for countless covers.

And to maintain his perfect body, McKibbin, 39, dedicates countless hours a week to grueling workouts. "I do stuff that normal humans don't like to do; I sprint up stairs 'til my legs are shaking,"he says.

By featuring physiques like McKibbin's, Men's Health has revolutionized the men's magazine business.

Zinczenko says he's responding to a cultural shift: "Whenever we put 'Lose Your Gut,' or 'Build Better Biceps' on the cover, it sells great."

Get Help
If you or someone you know needs help overcoming an eating disorder, get in touch with the National Eating Disorders Association.
What a lot of guys seem to want is what women have been obsessing over for years - a picture-perfect body.

Owen McKibbin insists he's always careful not to jeopardize his health. But an alarming number of men are taking dangerous shortcuts in their quest for physical perfection. The result: more men are developing eating disorders, like anorexia and bulimia.

Dr. Joseph Donnellan runs the eating disorders clinic at Somerset (N.J.) Medical Center. He says most men can handle the societal pressures to conform to a physical ideal, "but if you have some problems that make you more competitive...problems with self-confidence, you're going to develop an eating disorder."

And Donnellan says he has been treating more men for diseases such as bulimia and anorexia. "It's perceived as a female illness, but it is not," he says.

Rick DiSalvo, a husband and father of two, is one of Donnellan's male patients. He waited years before seeking help for his bulimia. "The urges were there to purge everything that I ate," says Rick.

Rick's obsession with his weight can be traced to his struggles as an overweight child.

"I was always large," he says. "I always went through school with a label...fatso, tubby, any cruel name you could think of, that's what I was called."

That he resorted to purging is not surprising to Donnellan. "Eating disorders are not about eating," he says. "They're about how you feel about yourself, it's about self-esteem and self-confidence, and your feeling of control in the world."

Rick says he is seeking help for his disorder to protect his children. "When I hear my daughter say, 'Daddy's going in the bathroom to get sick.' She knows," he says. "If they can develop this kind of illness from seeing me do it all the time, that's the last thing I want."

Anorexia sufferer Dave Scala is another of Donnellan's patients. "I wanted to have no body fat, because I'd get Muscle & Fitness (magazine) and there'd be all these guys, totally cut," he says. "I'm like, 'OK, that's a good thing to do.'"

Dave weighed 105 pounds when he arrived at the Somerset clinic in August, 2000. He had been secretly scheming to get down to 98 pounds.

Dave, who is a researcher in marine microbiology at Rutgers University, realizes his thinking is irrational. But it's still a struggle to try to break the grip his eating disorder has on him. "If I haven't gained, you know, I'm a bad patient. And if I do gain, I'm a bad anorexic," he says. "It's kind of a self-defeating attitude but it's hard to break out of it."

After a six-month stay at the clinic, Dave was released. But he faces an uphill battle to gain control of his illness. Half of all patients with eating disorders struggle with symptoms their entire lives.

Despite the statistics he remains optimistic. "I think I'll beat it," says Dave. "I don't think success means you never have a bad day. I think it means how you cope with having a bad day."

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  • David Kohn

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