Body-Obsessed Boys: Eric

"I Want to Be Ripped"

"When I look in the mirror, I want to be ripped. I want to see a six-pack. I want to have big arms. If I had my way, I would have zero body fat on me and just be all muscle," says Eric, 15. "I'm so afraid of what food will do to my body. There was one time when I ate a normal piece of cheese by accident. After I looked at the package, I really, really, really started to freak out, so I immediately got on the treadmill, and I ran three miles. I thought that wasn't even enough, so I ran another two after that. I almost feel like I'm not a teenager because all my friends are out partying, and I'm sitting at home, worrying about what my next meal is going to be.

"My obsession with being muscular started with my dad. He was always working out. He always had fitness magazines around," Eric explains.

"Eric, especially, wanted to work out," says Eric's father, Ken, about his middle son. "He would come down here, and work out with me and really enjoyed it. He started exercising just unbelievable amounts. He said once he got started on this, that this became an addiction, and he couldn't stop himself. He lost so much weight, I was amazed at just absolutely no body fat, but you could see every vein in the kid. Basically, he's been told that he cannot come down and use the weight equipment. The doctor told him he can't touch it."

Ken says he had no idea that working out with his son would lead him to develop an eating disorder. Eric was diagnosed with anorexia at 12 and was hospitalized this past summer with a dangerously low heart-rate.

[AD]"I can't convince him that he doesn't look heavy," says Eric's mother, Becky.

"It's very frustrating," Ken says. "He's got a very strong mind, and he just needs to decide that he's not going to do this any longer and quit cold turkey, like smoking cigarettes. It's an addiction."

Ken says mealtime is a struggle. "I prepared a chicken breast for him. He asked me, ‘Did you remove the fat?' And I said no, but his mom actually had removed the fat. And he just broke down and refused to eat it. I'm sitting there, watching him throw this chicken breast aside. Now, there are other people who would love to eat that. I actually told him, ‘Look, the doctor already told you if you lose weight again, you're going into the hospital.'"

"How do you explain this situation in your own words?" Dr. Phil asks Eric.

"It's just an obsession that got out of hand, and now I can't stop," Eric says. "And it's just unbelievable how tough these thoughts are to get past."

"You recognize this isn't healthy," Dr. Phil says. 

"Yeah, I realize that," Eric says. "I have two different sides. I have the one side that knows that what I'm doing isn't right, and I'm hurting myself, and then I have the other side that just kind of takes over, and it tells me, ‘Don't eat that. You don't need to do that. The doctors don't know what they're talking about.'"

Dr. Phil turns to Ken. "From the dad point of view, do you get that it has become involuntary? Because I've met with so many parents who are dealing with eating disorders " young, old, male, female " that a part of them says, ‘Just get over it and eat.'"

[AD]"In the beginning, I really felt strongly that the only person who's going to cure you from this disorder is yourself, and the only person who can change anything is you and your mind," Ken says. "I've told him over and over again, 'With faith, you can do anything.'"

"Mom, what do you think?" Dr. Phil asks Becky.

Becky agrees with her husband, that at first they thought Eric could stop his unhealthy behavior on his own. "But with going to the doctors, and nutritionists and therapists, it became very clear that he fights this battle every day in his head, and he cannot help what he does. And I have to remind myself of that all the time," she says. 

Dr. Phil notes that Eric feels he has to exercise every day, sometimes even at midnight. "You said you ate a piece of cheese, and it sent you over the top? Talk to me about what you said to yourself when that happened."

"I said to myself, 'It only happened once. It's not going to kill you,' but then those thoughts came around and told me, 'I cannot believe you just did that. You'd better do something to fix it right now,'" Eric says.

"OK, and if you didn't, then what?" Dr. Phil asks.

"Well, that was the thing. It was a sense of not knowing, and that was a problem because I have to be in control of what happens to me, and when I don't know, that's when I get scared," he says.

Dr. Phil explains that he believes eating disorders are a subcategory of obsession, compulsion and anxiety. "That's the symptom by which it expresses. Some people have panic attacks, some people have eating disorders. Some people are ritualistic in their behaviors, other people have eating disorders. But it kind of all comes from one thing. What do you think is your driver? What pushes you? You don't do something over and over if it doesn't serve a purpose. What purpose does this serve for you?" he asks Eric.

"I had the idea that it served the purpose to keep me healthy, to make me look good," he says.

Two photos of Eric appear on the screen behind them. One shows Eric young and healthy, and the other is a recent shot of him with extremely defined abdominals. "What do you think about the picture on the left?" Dr. Phil asks.

[AD]"I just see rolls on my stomach, and my face just looks so big," he says. 

"And what do you see on the right, besides a really cool hairdo?" Dr. Phil asks, joking about Eric's soapy mohawk.

"I see the muscles that I was kind of driving at," he says.

"On the picture on the left, describe the facial expression for me."

"It's a smile. He looks happy," Eric notes of himself. 

Dr. Phil has Eric look into a camera and his image shows up on the big screen behind them. 

"[He] doesn't look as happy," Eric observes.

"So, maybe this isn't working. Maybe the payoff isn't there the way you think," Dr. Phil says. "It's giving you what you say you want, but are you happy?"

"I guess, really, no," he says.

"Are you lonely?"

"Yeah, I guess I have been a little bit alienated from my friends," he says. 

"You don't even eat lunch with your friends, right?"

"No. I eat my lunch with a guidance counselor," Eric says.

"Do you ever get hungry? Do you ever just wake up, and you're just famished?" Dr. Phil asks.

"There have been times when I've woken up and been hungry, but I just tell myself, ‘No, you're not,'" he says.


"A lot of women would like to learn how to do that," Dr. Phil jokes. "But it's all a matter of degree though, right?"

[AD]"Yeah."

"I really want you to look at this from a different perspective while you're here today. Your biggest thing you've got going for you is you've got a loving family, a really supportive family, and you're really smart," he tells Eric.

Dr. Phil acknowledges Eric's courage in being honest about his problem, knowing that his access to his obsession may be taken away from him. "You can't imagine how brave and courageous this young man is in being here," he says to his audience.