Mike Marjama didn’t think his behavior was alarming until he ended up on a stretcher in the emergency room.
The Seattle Mariners catcher was a junior in high school when he was admitted to a week-long inpatient program for an eating disorder. For several years, he had been going through cycles of drastically cutting his food intake, overexercising, and binging and purging. He finally got help after he dropped a severe amount of weight ― around 14 pounds, he said ― in the span of a few days.
“My theory was that if I didn’t eat anything and worked out a ton, I would get big and strong,” said Marjama, now 28.
“I didn’t think anything was wrong,” he added. “But when I got put in that program, I realized that I was ... doing so much damage to my body. When that came about, that made it clear that I really did have an issue.”
After getting help at a facility, Marjama continued his recovery with an outpatient program. It took time and effort, he said, but eventually he got to a place where he had a healthy relationship with food and exercise.
“Just because you’re a Major League Baseball player, that doesn’t mean you’re immune to everything.”
Marjama decided he didn’t want to stay silent on a health issue that affects millions of people. He spoke openly about his eating disorder with others once he got treatment, and now is giving his story a more public platform as a professional baseball player. Marjama also discussed his experience in a raw mini-documentary published this week on the athlete media site UNINTERRUPTED.
“I wanted to give baseball fans and people in general a look at what this experience was for me,” Marjama said. “So I hope this sheds a light on it. Just because you’re a Major League Baseball player, that doesn’t mean you’re immune to everything. I’m more than just an athlete. I want to talk about [my eating disorder] because you don’t hear about it a lot ― especially with males.”
The MLB player is a much-welcomed voice in the conversation around the mental health issue. Athletes who are vocal about their eating disorder experiences and recovery can encourage others to reach out for support, said Susan Albers, a licensed clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and author of Eating Mindfully for Teens: A Workbook to Help You Make Healthy Choices, End Emotional Eating, and Feel Great.
“It’s important for men, particularly role models, to speak up about their experience to let other men know there is no shame in having an eating disorder,” Albers said. “The more men speak about it, the more likely to recognize and label what they are experiencing. Naming the problem leads to way to being able to obtain treatment.”
The National Eating Disorder Association estimates that 10 million American men will at some point develop an eating disorder, from anorexia to body dysmorphia. Still, there’s a pervasive stereotype that these disorders primarily affect thin, white, affluent women.
“In the past 15 years, I have seen an increase in men coming into my office seeking treatment,” Albers said. “Eating disorders, in the past and in the media, have been associated with issues of appearance. However, what we know now is that eating disorders are much more complex that that. They are multifactorial in nature with genetic, social, psychological and biological triggers.”
“The more men speak about it, the more likely to recognize and label what they are experiencing. Naming the problem leads to way to being able to obtain treatment.”
Albers stressed that many men who are dealing with disordered eating or dangerous exercise habits often keep their issues a secret or view their behavior as normal because of the stigma. That can have deadly consequences: Anorexia is the most fatal mental health issue in the U.S.
Eating disorders manifest in different ways, but there are a few tell-tale red flags, including:
Fitness or eating habits that seem excessive or unusual. Experts say it could be a cause for concern if you or someone you love is suddenly overeating, overexercising or drastically slashing calories or food groups. Constantly discussing dieting may also be a sign of disordered eating.
A shift in appearance. Significant changes in weight over a short period of time might be an indicator that something is wrong. Eating disorders can also cause nail brittleness, skin rashes and other changes in physical appearance.
Withdrawing from social gatherings ― especially those focused around food, like birthday parties or dinners.
Marjama said he hopes sharing his story will encourage men to think about how they might be damaging their minds and bodies.
“I was solely focused on an outcome or a finish line, but I would never get there,” he said. “And that’s when things got complicated for me.”
And, ultimately, he advised seeking support when these behaviors become dangerous. Asking for treatment or just talking to someone about your feelings doesn’t make you weak or strip you of any dignity, Marjama said.
“For guys in general, it’s OK to have these feelings,” he said. “Just reach out and just ask questions or talk to professionals. We’re all here to help.”
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.