Thomas Hightower has experienced firsthand the ravages of eating disorders, and he wants others to know - especially other males - that they are not alone.
Symptoms of Eating Disorders:
* Preoccupation with weight, food and dieting
* Use of laxatives, diuretics or enemas
*Repeated attempts to please others
*Perceived lack of control over life
*Indications of frequent vomiting
* Low self-esteem and depression
* Social withdrawal and isolation
*Dramatic weight fluctuations
Source: Dr. Christian Lemmon and Rogers Memorial Hospital
The 16-year-old Martinez teen has started Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, a nonprofit support group in the Augusta area.
''I want to spread awareness that eating disorders are serious and do kill," he said.
The problems began when he was 12 years old, a tormented 230-pound middle school pupil.
''I overheard a girl talking about losing weight - all she had eaten that day was a piece of cucumber with ranch dressing - and that stuck in my mind," he said.
He began dieting and exercising, and as he wasted away so did his interest in school. When his grades plummeted from A's to D's, his mother sought treatment for him. At one time when he was hospitalized, the 6-foot teen was down to 115 pounds.
''I got so thin, my heart could hardly beat; it was at 27 beats per minute," he said.
He suffered a stroke in February, the result of three years of anorexia and bulimia. As a result of the stroke, he lost 25 percent of his vision.
''That reminds me every day to stay strong," he said.
He is now home-schooled and started the joint enrollment program at Augusta State University this fall.
Now he is committed to maintaining his health and would like to join with others in their struggle.
''I want to get other people in Augusta who have a problem to not feel insecure and alone," said Thomas, who is now maintaining his weight at about 165.
Dr. Christian Lemmon, clinical psychologist and associate professor at the Medical College of Georgia, said that statistically, 95 percent of anorexia cases and 90 percent of bulimia cases are female.
''The problem is that men are less likely to seek treatment for psychiatric problems to begin with," he said. ''Another problem is that it is considered a female problem. A lot of people are mistaken in thinking that if a man has an eating disorder, then he also has a problem with his sexuality. People falsely assume that if you are a male with an eating disorder, then you are a homosexual.
''There's still a lot of men out there that are not getting the help that they need."
When males do seek treatment, doctors find that the disease is quite similar to that in females, Dr. Lemmon said. They restrict their diet, eat few fat grams, use laxatives and exercise excessively. And both sexes may have other associated psychiatric problems, such as depression and anxiety.
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