Boy, Interrupted

Meet Jeremy, a 36-year-old man who weighs 88 pounds. "Manorexia" isn't just a Hollywood illness.

To hear Jeremy's story in his own words, click on our audio slide show

For more photos of Jeremy, scroll through this photo gallery

For links to Eating Disorder resources or to comment on the story, please visit our blog.

Nick Vlcek
Nick Vlcek

At first I worried I'd have trouble picking Jeremy out of the crowd—Caribou Coffee was packed—but there was no mistaking him. "Gaunt" isn't the word. He's fragile. Brittle. His skin is stretched so tight over his temples that you can practically see his thoughts.

All the seats were taken, so we carried our coffee next door to Subway. The restaurant was empty, but Jeremy insisted on asking permission to sit down. "We're going to order before we leave," he promised. Although Jeremy's appearance would seem to suggest otherwise, the guy making sandwiches wasn't inclined to argue.

A half-hour later, Jeremy approached the counter again and dug his hand into his pocket, plucking out a tiny, folded-up coupon. It entitled him to a kids' meal—a third the size of an adult sub. Jeremy got a scoop of tuna fish on wheat, a small milk, a four-ounce yogurt, and a cookie.

He took his meal home to his downtown Minneapolis condo, ate it in small bites, then vomited it down the drain.

Jeremy may be an extreme example, but more men than ever are suffering from eating disorders. Earlier this year, Harvard researchers released the results of the first major nationwide mental health survey to include eating disorders. It found that men accounted for 25 percent of anorexia and bulimia cases and a full 40 percent of binge eaters. "These disorders are less common in men, but maybe not quite as rare as we once thought," says Dr. James I. Hudson, the study's lead author.

There's even a tabloid-friendly name for the disorder: manorexia. The neologism was apparently coined by Dennis Quaid, who used it in an interview with Best Life to describe his experience of losing 40 pounds to play Doc Holliday in 1994's Wyatt Earp. "I'd look in the mirror and see a 180-pound guy, even though I was 138 pounds," Quaid said.

Other celebrities rumored to have suffered from "manorexia" include Ethan Hawke and Billy Bob Thornton (post-Angelina Jolie).

"There's a lot of reason to believe that body image concerns are increasing in both women and men," says Dr. Hudson.

Jeremy, who asked that his last name be withheld to protect his privacy, entered the world in St. Paul on August 23, 1971, an event he'd later sum up in four words: "The spawn is born." His biological dad didn't stick around, and his mother, who worked at a department store, married a carpenter, who dutifully adopted Jeremy.

"The relationship with my stepdad was horrible; he treated me like shit," Jeremy says. "He acted like I was an intruder in his home."

Jeremy was a pudgy kid, still carrying his baby fat, and his weight was a frequent target for his stepfather's ire. "He'd always say I was fat, or needed to lose weight," Jeremy says.

If that wasn't enough, Jeremy was going through puberty and confronting the fact that he was gay. The very thought of it horrified him. He could only imagine how his stepdad would react. And what about his grandparents, with whom he played Yahtzee?

Then, when he was 12, Jeremy discovered a solution to both problems: starvation.

"It serves two purposes," Jeremy says. "It serves a very applied purpose in that if you're doing the behaviors, you don't have time to think about being gay. And also being malnourished, you don't feel sexual, so you don't have to worry about being gay or straight."

Daralyn Sachs, a childhood friend of Jeremy's, remembers him as an emotionally needy boy who was always looking for an excuse to get out of his house. If they had a play date for Saturday morning, he'd be at her house bright and early at 7:00 a.m.

"He'd eat dinner at our house—I'm sure he would sleep over if he could," she says. "He would go from house to house, searching for somewhere to be other than home."

Within months of starting his crash diet, Jeremy was suffering advanced symptoms of starvation. He was sensitive to cold and had grown a fine coat of body hair. He saw a doctor in November 1983 who took one look at the 85-pound boy and diagnosed him with anorexia nervosa.

A month later, after losing nine more pounds, Jeremy entered Children's Hospital of St. Paul. "Jeremy is a 12-year-old boy admitted for evaluation and treatment of anorexia nervosa," reads the December 15, 1983 evaluation. "He is somewhat irritable and is having difficulty concentrating on his schoolwork. He is substantially small for his age."

The doctors employed a carrot-and-stick approach, with mixed success. Jeremy was allowed to eat anything he wanted, but his television, telephone, and visiting privileges would be taken away if he didn't meet goals for gaining back the weight. Jeremy put back on the pounds and was discharged after a month, but within a year of returning home, he was back to his bad habits.

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