Health Team

Men more reluctant to seek treatment for eating disorders

Posted March 17

Being overweight or obese is a major concern these days among health care providers, but the other extreme can be just as much, or sometimes more, of a problem.

Lieutenant Bill Nato is an officer with the University of North Carolina Department of Public Safety, and perhaps not someone people would expect to have been an overweight child. The increased weight was a side effect of allergy medications he took at age 10.

“I gained a whole lot of weight and kids being kids, they made jokes and things of that nature,” Nato said.

Nato became compulsive about sports, exercise and diet.

“My behaviors would range from restrictive eating to compulsive exercise,” he said.

Nato suffered from anorexia nervosa for many years.

“Often times, people don’t realize that they’re struggling with something that could be life threatening,” said Dr. Stephanie Zerwas with the UNC Centers of Excellence for Eating Disorders.

Zerwas said men are often more reluctant than women to recognize their need for treatment and seek it.

“They’re worried that their doctor isn’t going to believe them and they have an idea that this only affects women,” she said.

Zerwas said 5 percent of the population will develop an eating disorder. Two to 3 percent develop bulimia nervosa, like Nato, who learned to compensate for binging by vomiting, which only made him hungrier.

“It’s sort of like a slippery slope so the binge leads to the purge, it leads to the binge,” he said.

Two years ago, Nato only weighed 103 pounds when his co-workers intervened. They helped him find help with UNC’s Eating Disorders Center. He underwent outpatient therapy three days per week, which was designed to get to the heart of his behaviors.

Zerwas said families are often the key to healing.

“They’re absolutely not to blame. They’re actually our best advocates in recovery, frequently,” she said.

Nato now weighs 142 pounds and has a message for others.

“First is to realize that it’s a biological condition. It’s an illness, it’s a medical condition,” he said. “Next, to realize that it’s treatable. You can be cured, you can get past this,”

Zerwas said insurers now recognize the importance of covering treatment for eating disorders for both inpatient and outpatient care. Nato also qualified for a study that helped cover his costs.


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