It is widely assumed that eating disorders affect only females. Statistics tell us otherwise. In fact, almost one in three people that struggle with an eating disorder is male. Yet, with the stigma that it is a “female” disorder, a lot of males do not seek treatment.

Brad Huffaker was one of those males with a severe eating disorder. On Nov. 14 Brad Huffaker was found dead in his vehicle. He was 36. Preliminary autopsy reports revealed that he died of a heart attack, likely the result of years of abusing his body through his eating disorder.

Brad was an accomplished athlete, having played basketball and soccer at Maryville High School and then at Hartwick College in New York. During his junior year of college, a faculty member at Hartwick alerted the family of Brad’s eating problems. He really had no signs of it earlier, but it had manifested itself when he was a sophomore in college. That’s when the bulimia started. Bulimia is an eating disorder where the individual will binge eat, consuming large amounts of food, then purge, by self-induced vomiting, the use of laxatives, or fasting. In Brad’s case, he would exercise excessively. In college, Brad’s behavior ended his basketball and soccer careers, so he switched to cross country so he could get his exercise fix.

This is also called Compulsive Athletic Disorder or Compulsive Exercise Disorder. There were signs popping up everywhere after college. He would run in the morning and run and exercise again in the afternoon.

There was a stage along the way, about 12 years ago, when he started having to take significant levels of potassium because of what the eating disorder was doing to his heart. He spent time in a residential facility for eating disorders, one of only two in the country that focuses on males. He sought the help from psychologists, nutritionists, personal trainers, and participated in recovery support groups. Obviously, they were unsuccessful.

He counted calories obsessively and would then exercise to offset the calories eaten. Brad was also suffering from depression. Did depression bring on the eating disorder or did the eating disorder bring on the depression? We will never know.

We do know that sometimes the seed for an eating disorder is planted at an early age. Maybe a child is told that they are fat. Maybe they have unrealistic expectations for body image that come from others. We have to be cognizant about the effect of our words. That is likely were it starts. Be careful what you say. Don’t ignore even the smallest of warning signs. Are they leaving the dinner table early? Do they seclude themselves after eating? Do they always go to the bathroom after eating? Are they beginning to have dental problems (possibly from acid reflux from the purging)? Do you catch them look at their body in the mirror too often?

You might not notice the weight loss. It might not be so obvious. And if they had been heavy, you might be proud that they’ve got their weight under control. You’ve got to watch for all the other signs.

If you don’t think this could happen in your family, you’re wrong. It may even happen more often to smarter people. I have known of several young people with serious eating disorders and they’re all really bright, very athletic individuals. Highly accomplished.

The day after Brad was found, his dad spoke to me, sharing this story. He summed it up best with this heartfelt appeal. “Maybe Brad’s story could save another youth or adult from going down that direction. Maybe one life, one family could be spared this tragedy.”

Email Joe Black joeblackdpt@gmail.com to write to him.

(1) comment

crmark

Thank you, Joe, for this article. As one who works in the Addiction and Eating Disorder treatment field, pointing out the occult prevalence of this disease in males is important, especially with, as you pointed out, the increased stigma attached. The most common way males manifest symptoms of an eating disorder is through over exercise, followed by "Orthorexia" which is an obsessive "over attention" to diet, often mis-recognized as simply paying close attention to what one might see as a "healthy diet". These behaviors become "disordered", or manifestations of a brewing disease, when the sufferer begins to experience consequences, from over exercise injuries all the way up to what Brad had to experience before and after he sought treatment. Brad was a fine young man, well known in our neighborhood through his constant helping with household and handiwork for many of our neighbors. He was always pleasant and ready with a kind word and willing to open up and talk about his struggles. My hope is that his passing will not be in vain and his life may be a beacon to others, who may be similarly suffering, to seek help, just as he did. Thank you.

Curtis R. Markham, MD
Medical Director English Mountain Recovery, and Focus Integrative Centers, Knoxville.

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