Mitchell Doyle was just 11 years old and in year six when his battle with anorexia and bulimia began.
“I was bullied about my weight in primary school so I started monitoring what I was eating and looking at fat labels. I was really obsessive over it all,” he says.
For the next two years, his eating disorder consumed him, leaving him on the brink of hospitalisation. A trip to the doctor scared him into eating again, for a while, but when he reached year 11, he spiralled out of control.
“In year 11, we were doing fat caliper and BMI tests in PE class in a group setting and it was very confronting,” he says.
“I was not only starving myself, I was also binging and purging and exercising to excess. It was really a lot more intense mentally and physically this time. I remember at one point it was so bad that I felt guilty drinking water. I would drink a glass of water and think, ‘Oh my god, I’m fat!’”
Eating disorders are traditionally considered to primarily affect girls and young women, but almost one in three male year 9 students used fasting, skipping meals, diet pills, vomiting after meals, laxatives and smoking cigarettes to keep off weight, figures released by eating disorders organisation the Butterfly Foundation found.
At the age of 22, Mitchell weighed the same as he did when he was 12. Before long, he was suffering from depression and became suicidal.
“I had the mentality that if I ate, I was not good enough,” he says. “I was worthless, fat and disgusting so that cycle of constant blaming and constant berating yourself every minute of the day became too much … I remember once out at dinner and didn’t have access to a bathroom to be sick.
“I was on the train home and was thinking you piece of shit and began hurting myself. I then took painkillers and ended up in hospital. I felt so bad about myself that the only way out was to kill myself. That happened three times.”
Now 25, Mitchell acts as a spokesman for boys and men battling eating disorders.
“We need to remove that stigma that we have all inadvertently built inside our society that males shouldn’t talk about their feelings and that men don’t cry,” he says.
“That’s ridiculous because we are all programmed that way and we all have the capacity to have emotions so why should we keep quiet about them.”
With the help of a psychologist, the support of family and friends, the practice of yoga and the act of mindfulness, Mitchell has freed himself from the grips of his eating disorder.
“What got me out of those negative thought patterns is finding what works for me,” he says. “Finding what support you have available and being open and honest about your mental illness is very important.”