The Pandemic Is Heightening Diet Culture for Men
Men aren’t part of the body positivity movement, but they need to be
The first time I hung out with Ryon Odneal, he ordered the chipotle avocado chicken wrap at our local diner, and the waitress knew before he could say it: “Without the wrap, right?” He laughed. When his lunch arrived — a pile of chicken, lettuce, avocado, black beans, and cheese smothered in chipotle sauce — he gestured to it. “At the height of my anorexia, I was eating maybe 1,200 calories a day,” says Odneal, a 28-year-old photographer who also manages a luxury eyewear store in Beacon, New York. “That’s, like, right here on this plate, right?” He was proud. This felt like recovery.
But when I talk to Odneal two months later by phone in April, each of us at home in our respective quarantine bunkers, it’s a different story. “I’m living off almonds, pretty much,” he says. It’s a dangerous panic response and he knows it. During the first few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, with his normal routine upended and his beloved CrossFit gym closed, Odneal responded, as so many of us did, by turning to comfort foods. “It was emotional,” he says. “I had this fear of, what if this gets really bad and food is not available? I should eat now, before I’m down to one tuna can a day.” But that quickly turned into what felt like uncontrollable binge eating and then into trying to course-correct by restricting his diet in ways that Odneal thought he had put behind him. “I keep thinking, no no no, this can’t be happening again,” Odneal tells me. “But I think I just need to feel in control of something.”
Trying to control his body is not new for Odneal. He was teased for his weight growing up and remembers searingly painful moments, like the time a friend told him that his thighs were “too big to wear hipster jeans.” But he didn’t start dieting in earnest until he was 19 and was hired by a fitness brand recruiting people to do a weight loss challenge. Odneal lost 20 pounds in 45 days. He liked feeling stronger from the daily workout routine, but didn’t love skipping meals. That is, until he ran into a friend from high school who said, “Oh hey, you’re actually attractive now!” Odneal was hooked. For the better part of the next seven years, he engaged in the kind of restricting and purging behaviors…