SUMMARY: Brian Cuban talks with Phillip and Kathleen about eating disorders among men.
Episode #43 | Brian Cuban-Eating Disorders Among Men
Kathleen Mills-Proprietor, Counselor at Life Tree Counseling
Phillip Crum-The Content Marketing Coach
Phillip Crum: We’ll just get started because it is time for another edition of It’s Just Coffee.
Kathleen Mills: It is.
PC: Which is Kathleen’s – that’s her right over there – that’s Katheen’s weekly foray into the minds and the motivations of the counseling profession. So I’m good thing morning. How about you, Kathleen?
KM: I am well. You know what? I forgot my coffee today, but I had a lot this weekend when I was traveling, right?
PC: Well, we’ll bring you some up. We’ll bring you some up.
KM: There you go.
PC: Who do we have on tap today?
KM: My pleasure to introduce Brian Cuban. Brian, how are you doing today?
Brian Cuban: I’m doing well, Kathleen. Thank you.
KM: I am so thrilled that you agreed to do a podcast with us, because you have so much to say and so much to share and just need you to say and share more to my listeners and-
PC: Is he one of those Cubans?
KM: I think so.
PC: Has he ever written anything?
KM: Yes, he has. Actually, he’s got a book out and it’s called Shattered Image: My Triumph Over Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
PC: Is that the only title that wasn’t taken, Mark-or Brian? Or- I’m just kidding.
BC: No, that was the title that was thought long and hard on.
PC: I’m just kidding. That’s some big words there.
KM: How long ago did you write it, Brian?
BC: Well, it was published a year ago August 5th but I started writing it about a year before that.
KM: And tell me a little bit about what prompted you to write that.
PC: What is body dysmorphic disorder?
BC: Body dysmorphic disorder is a psychological disorder in which people take a small or even maybe non-existent defect in their body and then exaggerated it to the point where they are unable to function “normally” in life. For me, I imagined that I had this huge, fat stomach – no matter how thin I got or no matter how muscular I got, and I engaged in all these self-destructive behaviors to try to change that, this image in the mirror that really wasn’t there. For other people, they might abuse plastic surgery. I actually did that, too. I had plastic surgery until I went broke. Other people might abuse alcohol – I did that, too. Other people might abuse drugs – I did that, too. Other people might abuse steroids – that’s me, too. So you can go through a lot of… and eating disorders. Other people also have eating disorders for body dysmorphic disorder. I was anorexic and bulimic for 27 years. I had just about every destructive behavior you can have.
PC: What triggers body dysmorphic disorder? Everybody’s – I would think – everybody thinks there is some imperfection in their body. What triggers that?
BC: Well, sure. I mean, everyone looks in the mirror at some point in their life, or in a day, or in a week, and says, “Man, that sucks.” Whether it’s your hair, you’re feeling heavy, this or that. But that’s normative discontent. That’s what we all go through. That is not a psychological disorder. Body dysmorphic disorder can be triggered by a number of environmental factors. For me, it was a lot of fat shaming in my household growing up. My mom and I had a very difficult relationship and she would use some pretty harsh words such as call me a fat big and things like that. And those were the things she had done to her by her mom, because the things are often generational in nature. And, as I got heavier, there was a lot of the bullying started at school and there was severe bullying over my weight at school. And I was a shy child to begin with – middle child syndrome really gauged by self-image to acceptance in what people said to me. So there were a bunch of environmental factors that came together to trigger this. I don’t think you can pin it on any one thing. They say genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger. So who knows – there may have been a genetic predisposition.
KM: Right. The thing that struck me when I listened to you, well probably nine months ago at the tap, you were very confident about not… I mean, you talk about you having no shame and you really worked a lot to get to that point of just being able to tell your story – especially when it revolves around the male eating disorder stigma.
BC: Yes. The male eating disorder stigma is very strong. I mean, people don’t realize that 30% of all those diagnosed with eating disorders are male. People think it’s a female disorder.
KM: Mmm hmm. A lot of people are busy not talking about it, and the thing that strikes me about you particularly is you not only talk about it, but you’re passionate about getting your message out to people who need to just be able to just hear your story.
BC: Well, I always try to take the view of, “If not me, who?” And, “If it’s not now, when?” And that doesn’t mean there aren’t other very passionate people out there speaking out about it from the male standpoint. There are. But I try to take responsibility for where I am, and try to own my story, and try to empower others with my story. And hopefully others will do that with their stories. Unfortunately, with male eating disorders – because the shame and the stigma is so great – it’s almost like the chicken and the egg. We need to break stigma by more males speaking out, but more males don’t generally speak out because of the stigma.
KM: Right – exactly. How have you been received over the last, let’s say, year while you’re promoting your book Shattered Image, and just telling the story? What kind of comments have you had? What feedback have you had? That kind of thing.
BC: Well, as a baseline, I have… if a female goes and speaks about these subjects, there are a lot of wonderful women about there talking about eating disorders like Jenny Shaffer. And when they speak about it, the women are already used to the conversation, so you don’t have to educate people. So you’re going right into the conversation. With me, it’s more of a two-pronged attack. I have to educate people that males get eating disorders and then I can empower them. So it’s a little bit of a different process I think for a male to talk about it, but the response has been great. Every week I get emails from men and women saying, “Hey, I thought I was the only one. Thank you for speaking out.” Which is very common – I thought I was the only one when I was suffering with my eating disorder. And even when I was in recovery, I had not yet gone public. I didn’t go public because I was ashamed. I thought I was the only guy out there.
PC: Well, now that’s a good set up for me for my question, which is: You mentioned the stigma among guys is, you know, prevents them from acting on it. Is it the stigma, or take a step back even further and say, do they even know they have an eating disorder?
BC: That’s a good question. I think that it’s a lot of younger- especially with the younger people going through it. Most people develop eating disorders between 18 and 21 years old when they’re in college. You may not understand what you’re going through. I know when I developed my eating disorder as a freshman at Penn State University, way back in 1979, that was before Karen Carpenter passed away and brought anorexia in to the national spotlight. That was before anyone was really talking about it. I had no idea what I was going through. I just knew that I was engaging in a behavior that for a few moments made me feel normal.
KM: I would think that that would feel incredibly lonely.
BC: Eating disorders are very isolating – the shame isolates you. The confusion isolates you. And it was. I basically stayed in my room. I kept to myself and I didn’t want to be around other people because I was very ashamed of what I was going through. And I didn’t understand what I was going through either.
PC: How did you get out of the pit?
BC: Well, that was quite a long journey that also involved drug addiction, alcoholism, a near suicide attempt where I was literally rescued at the last second by my two brothers, two trips to a psychiatric facility and I finally realized that there probably was not going to be a third trip to a psychiatric facility because I’d be below ground. And I also began to sense that I was getting dangerously close to losing my family. Our father had brought us up and he’s still alive. He brought us up – the three of us – the younger brother as well, to be very close. He would say to us growing up, he’d say, “Mark, Jeff, Brian: Good friends may come and go. Wives may come and go – and for me they certainly have. One more and I get a free set of steak knives – and when push comes to shove, all you have is each other. So wherever you go, wherever your life takes you, always call each other. Always ask how the other is doing. Always be there for each other.” And that stuck with us. I remember standing in the parking lot of Green Oaks Psychiatric Facility for the second time after a three-day alcoholic blackout in 2007, thinking to myself, “This is it. I’m going to lose my family. I’m probably going to be dead. My whole life is out of control. I have to figure out how to move forward.” Even worse than the thought of losing my life and harming myself, the thought of losing my family scared me the worst. I know that’s weird, but for people who have been through suicidal thoughts, you almost become comfortable with those thoughts. And so that next day, that was April 7, 2007. April 8th I walked into my shrink who I had been seeing for a couple years lying my butt off, telling him everything’s okay. Three failed marriages, I’m depressed – and I was clinically depressed – give me medication. And it’s funny – people think because you’re paying your treatment provider, you’re going to be honest with them. But shame knows no hourly rate, let me tell you that.
BC: So I’d not been giving my psychiatrist the whole story and that day, that morning, April 8, I unloaded on him finally. And I took the first step in recovery, which is getting honest. Getting honest is a two-pronged thing. Getting honest is about where you are: that I was untreated for eating disorders, that I was a drug addict and alcoholic. And getting honest about how you got there, which is a lot harder than getting the behavior under control. Because I think most people through sheer force of will, whether it’s alcohol or drugs, can say, “Okay, from A to B this week I’m not going to drink.” But controlling that portion of behavior does not deal with the issue, which will make you prone to a relapse.
KM: What made your epiphany stick on that April 8, 2007? What helped make it stick for you, Brian?
BC: It was a gradual process that helped make it stick. The getting honest about where I was and finally coming to terms with the fact that I was an addict was big because that next day I walked into twelve step. And twelve step was very important to me because it gave me the routine of sobriety. As my shrink said to me, “Look. We can’t deal with all the stuff in your childhood, figuring out how you got here, until we get your current behaviors under control because you’re a drug addict and alcoholic. And you need to be sober when we talk about this stuff.”
PC: That’s an interesting concept, the twelve step program has a pattern of sobriety – a pattern.
KM: Like a structure coach.
BC: Absolutely. I needed the structure to get a clear head. I mean, I had no structure. My life was a black hole of no boundaries. So I had to limit my world and create boundaries, and one of those boundaries was getting into twelve step every day to getting the support I need from other people in the same situation so I would not drink or use drugs. That was very important.
PC: So if somebody’s listening right now, Brian, and they think they have an eating disorder and they’re ready to get honest; that’s step one. Step two is, I assume, call somebody. What is step two?
BC: Step two is find someone you can talk to. I get people all the time to say, “I’m so alone. There’s no one I can talk to. No one loves me.” I say, “Well, let’s look at it another way. Let’s look around. Who do you love? Give me five people you love. Let’s go through those people. Can we talk to those people?” So it’s finding someone you can talk to and open up to, and that’s not easy. I wouldn’t even open up to my shrink for awhile, for years. It’s not easy. But you have to be willing to drop that wall of shame for one second and take one little step forward and let somebody love you. That’s the first step, and it’s a hard first step because you project out that you’re going to be laughed at, that they’re not going to understand, they’re going to say, “You’re crazy. Guys don’t get eating disorders.” But I’ll tell you what: when I was able to drop that wall for one second, I found out that I was loved and there were people that wanted to help me.
KM: You probably had more people coming – flooding – to you as a result of that than you ever had imagined I bet.
BC: It was a much greater acceptance than I ever imagined. And it was wonderful. And you remember – I was anorexic at 18 and bulimic from 19 to 45 years old. I mean, there’s a lot of shame associated with that. There’s a lot of routine associated with that. You get used to that as a way of life. It’s just like breathing. So it was difficult-
KM: Well, it’s that isolation too, right?
BC: Right. So it was difficult for me to take that first step forward. And nobody can make you do it. I mean, people can give you the framework. People can give you the road. People can give you the structure if you want to take that, but you have to step forward. You have to want to take that step. It’s like when I run eight marathons and getting out and training for marathons and especially growing up in Pittsburg and going to school at Penn State where you can be running where it’s a snow storm and there’s 10 feet of snow on the ground and mayhem.
BC: 95% of it is just getting up and getting out of the house – the first step.
PC: Getting out of bed.
KM: Just do it.
BC: Just getting out and taking that first step running. And with getting eating disorders and with recovery – and not just eating disorders: addiction, alcoholism – that first step is the hardest but it’s the most important. It doesn’t have to be a big one. It doesn’t have to be a big one.
PC: What’s step three? Is there one?
BC: Step three was forgiveness. Step three was forgiveness. I had to forgive the bullies. I had to forgive my mother. And my mother was very important in my recovery because my mother was willing to sit down with me and talk about how she was raised, give me the context for what she had had done to her by her mother, the fat shaming and the verbal abuse. And got me to realize that it wasn’t my mom’s fault. If your child has an eating disorder, it’s not your fault.
PC: Let me ask you something, and I’m not being flip or funny. Was your mother a monster?
BC: No. My mother is a human being.
PC: Just like anybody else.
BC: My mother was a human being doing the best she could with the tools she was given. And my mother was very instrumental because a lot of families don’t have parents who are willing to sit down and jump into the fray. There’s a lot of blame. There’s a lot of denial. Especially with eating disorders because it’s very easy for a parent to blame themselves, but it’s not the parents’ fault. Eating disorders are biologically based – we know that. They can be triggered by numerous factors – home environment, bullying at school, this that. We don’t know yet what triggers eating disorders but we do know there’s a biological basis to them, and parents should not blame themselves. I know parents who have done every single thing right and their child developed an eating disorder.
PC: The biological contribution, as you’ve already proved, does not excuse somebody from taking action to overcome it.
BC: No, no. And I mean, parents can be part of that environment just like other kids can. There are countless factors that can be part of that environment, but all play into it. But we don’t know what particular trigger is more important than any other.
PC: How did your mom take all of this, if you don’t mind sharing that?
BC: My mom was instrumental. My mom was part of the book. My mom, I would not have written the book if my mom was not good with it. My mom came to the very first talk I ever did. My mom – I love my mom and I credit my mom more than anything else with my recovery.
BC: My mom and I have a very good relationship now where we did not at one point, where we would go a long time without speaking because there was blame over the childhood fat shaming. There was guilt. So we wouldn’t even speak. But we’ve worked through that and she was instrumental in that.
KM: You both had a lot of healing and reconciliation and that’s powerful.
BC: Healing is very important and once you’re able to understand, once my mom was able to explain to me how she was raised, understanding breeds forgiveness.
BC: And forgiveness throws away all the thoughts of fault. And once I forgive my mom and understood and was able to forgive my mom, then the kids who bullied me at school, you forgive them. You’re letting go of all the anger over all these years, and that was huge in my recovery. It is like the weight of the world lifted off you.
PC: Brian, we got honest. We opened up. We forgave a lot. Where’s the doctor in all of this? Is there a – I guess I’m a systems guy. I like processes. I want to know, getting honest – that’s just you alone in a room deciding to take action. Finding someone to talk to could be a relative. And the forgiveness or the structure – for you, you already had a psychiatrist that you’re seeing and you just decided to get honest with him. Is there a professional, a doctor, a clinician of some type involved in the process.
BC: Oh sure, there are all kinds of resources for people with eating disorders. A great place to start if you’re looking for resources is the National Eating Disorder Association website. You can be led to different treatment providers in your area. There are all kinds of treatment options that didn’t exist when I was going through this. There’s impatient. There’s outpatient. There are numerous psychiatrists and psychologists who specialize in the eating disorder treatment. There are options.
PC: How long did it take to go from the bottom of the barrel at your worst moment to a point where you thought, “I’m normal. I’m functioning here.”
BC: I don’t think about it in those terms. Recovery is a daily process. I’m still in recovery. I’ll always work to make myself a better person. I have no normal baseline that I set. I just want to be a better person every day and every day I want to empower someone to recover.
KM: You went from having a whole lot of shame and isolating to being fearless and talking to everyone. And to me that’s the power of recovery.
BC: And that’s because I’m passionate.
BC: Passion breeds… I don’t look at it as fearlessness, but to use your term… passion breeds fearlessness.
KM: There you go.
PC: Well, Brian, in addition to spreading the gospel according to Brian, which you do a very good job of, what’s on the-
BC: I think it’s important to point out it’s just the gospel according to Brian. Everyone has their own point of view. My way of recovery may not be for everyone. It’s very important for everyone to talk with someone they can trust and figure out what the road is for them. We all have different roads to recovery.
PC: So what’s on the horizon for Brian Cuban? What are you working on?
BC: I travel the country speaking at colleges and high schools about recovery, about breaking the stigma of mental illness. That is what I do. I just spoke at the University of North Texas. The week before that I spoke at the University of Pittsburg. I’ll be speaking at Naylor coming up and then Penn State University. So I travel the different colleges hoping to empower students not only to better themselves if they’re in recovery or to empower them to go into recovery, but to empower the students around them with what I call the three Es: empathy, education, empowerment.
PC: Excellent. Well you must have quite a collection of collegiate t-shirts by now.
BC: Yes, yes.
PC: Well, good. If somebody wants to find out more about Brian Cuban and his topic, Brian where can we find you?
BC: I write about it on my blog at briancuban.com and my book Shattered Image is available on Amazon.com. And you can find me on Twitter @dcuban.
PC: Thank you, sir. This has been a lot of fun.
KM: Brian, thank you so much.
PC: I appreciate you honesty.
BC: Thank you for having me on. I really appreciate it.
KM: Oh, I just appreciate you doing what you do and not feeling lonely to tell about it anymore, and I think we all have much to learn about just sticking to your passion and marching forward.
PC: We’ve only got a minute left, so tell me where we can find you, Kathleen.
KM: Yes. Lifetreecounseling.com, or you can email me Kathleen@lifetreecounseling.com.
PC: And I’m still Phillip Crum, at contentmarketingcoach.us. And 214-264-6297. Thank you very much, Brian Cuban.
KM: Brian, thank you so much.
BC: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
PC: Thanks for listening, everybody. We’ll see you next time.
BC: Take care, bu-bye.