A 25-year-old dietitian talks about his lifelong battle with anorexia and fears he will ‘never be free’ from the disease.
Alex Rodriguez was just 10 years old when he was first consumed with intrusive thoughts, self-loathing, and an obscene obsession with food and exercise.
At the age of 14, the youngster from Melbourne was so unwell that doctors monitored him 24 hours a day to keep him alive.
He thought he had finally regained control of his mental health and “overcame” the insidious disease when his life went off the rails again after he went to college to study nutrition.
Speaking to FEMAIL, the dietician described the disorder as similar to “an abusive partner bent on taking away their agency, control, and support network.”
Alex has spent years trying to get better and even now admits that he sometimes falls into unhealthy thought patterns, but has learned how to push them out.
Alex Rodriguez (pictured), 25, from Melbourne, was just 10 years old when he was first diagnosed with eating disorders
“My eating disorder goes back to when I was very young,” he explained. “I was an anxious child and had very low self-esteem.”
Alex’s parents divorced when he was 10 years old, and the stress of a broken home combined with being bullied in elementary school lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
“I felt like everything was pure chaos and life was out of control. Then I started focusing on food because it was one of the few things I could regulate.’
“I became super obsessive about food intake and how much I was exercising.”
Alex was first taken to a dietitian when he was 11 – and said he was extremely lucky that the professional was able to get him back on track.
While Alex was at no medical risk for the rest of his teenage years, it was only then that he began to understand the long journey he would have to take to truly recover.
But during Alex’s adolescence, things started to go downhill again.
“My anxiety, low self-esteem and obsession with food came back when I turned 14,” he said. “I started building my identity around being ‘fit’ and ‘healthy’ and I started running a lot.”
“I had lost a lot of weight and became mentally unstable,” Alex recalls. “I was out of control again.”
Alex eventually had to be hospitalized and spent four weeks in a hospital.
“I felt like I had started the next chapter of my life after leaving the hospital.”
The difference between a ‘healthy’ voice and an ‘eating disorder’ voice
Will ask you to take care of yourself and your body
Ensures you form a positive bond between livelihood and output
Drive to your loved ones to seek help
Act in line with your values
Eating disorder voice
Will drive you to act obsessively with food and exercise
Affects your behavior in a negative way
Isolates you from your support system
Takes away your freedom of choice and control
Source: Alex Rodriguez
Although Alex was at no medical risk for the rest of his teenage years, he was only just beginning to understand the long journey he would have to take to truly recover.
The man soon realized that the risk factors for his eating disorder were still present during his college years.
While he was previously fixated on looking skinny and running a lot, Alex’s new obsession took the form of wanting to look as muscular and strong as possible.
“That’s when I realized I really wanted to pursue a full recovery. I still had an extremely negative body image, but I wanted my eating disorder to stop interfering with how I lived my life.”
“I really had to learn who I really was and live the way I wanted to live instead of the way my mental illness made me,” Alex said.
Alex now lives in Queensland and works as a full-time nutritionist and dietician.
Alex now lives in Queensland and works as a full-time nutritionist and dietician
Although he is recovering well, the man admitted to being under the spell of his illness from time to time.
His advice for people struggling with eating disorders is to realize that while full recovery is possible, the road to it can feel hopeless and endless.
“Life is better when you’ve recovered, but the process will feel difficult and uncomfortable because your eating disorder will be challenged.”
“Listing and looking at the internal reasons why recovery was important to me really helped.”
The dietitian urged people to ask themselves, “Why do you want to recover? What will be better? What does your disorder take away that you don’t want to live without?”
“Perfectionists often feel they have to achieve everything at once, but it’s definitely a step-by-step process.”
Alex is also a recovery mentor at River Oak Health in Queensland, where he helps patients using dietetics, psychology and art therapy.
Alex’s advice for people struggling with eating disorders is to realize that while full recovery is possible, the road to it can feel hopeless and endless.
Here’s what helped Alex on his journey to recovery
Family and support network: ‘Eating disorders thrive in isolation and secrecy. If you can, you should reach out to people you trust to get help.”
Professional care team“I am eternally grateful to my nutritionist — he was so adamant about getting me back on track.”
Looking for intrinsic motivations: ‘Being compassionate and caring about people is what matters to me. My ED was causing disconnection and hardness that I wanted to stop.”
Talk back and challenge his ED voice: “You can’t just fight and get over it – you have to invalidate the ED vote.”
Realizing recovery was not immediate: ‘Nothing happens without hard work and dedication. The journey is step by step and very difficult – but full recovery is possible.’
Alex is extremely aware of how disordered eating has been perceived in the popular consciousness.
“Society stereotypes that eating disorders are limited to skinny white women,” the professional nutritionist explained.
“While that form exists and deserves help, it minimizes the experiences of people who don’t fit that presentation.”
The dietician emphasized that marginalized groups – including men – were often rejected and declared invalid.
‘A lot of popular culture reinforces disordered eating and exercise, but it’s not normal at all. I remember missing social events and turning down food from my friends and family because it wasn’t in line with how I thought I should eat.”
“Men are not expected to have an eating disorder, which is why many of us dismiss genuine concerns and unhealthy behaviors.”
Alex is also a recovery mentor at River Oak Health in Queensland where he helps patients using dietetics, psychology and art therapy
Alex also revealed a surprising correlation between people with eating disorders and people who study nutrition.
“It’s very hard because I’ve seen so many people who are so preoccupied with food that they become nutritionists,” he said.
“But it’s a double-edged sword — when people start their studies and become so obsessed with the content that they develop eating disorders.”
Alex’s keen interest in biology and science – and his desire to help people – was what originally inspired him to enter the profession, but part of his decision can be traced back to his preoccupation with food.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please contact the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673. Talk to someone now.