To fill an urgent need, Rogers Memorial started the nation’s first residential treatment program for men with eating disorders.
Hugh Slate was bullied about his weight as a child, like many other men treated for eating disorders at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc. When Slate was 15, he lost 110 pounds, and “people started to treat me differently,” he says. But this physical transformation wasn’t, in fact, the beginning of a promising new chapter in Slate’s life. It was the beginning of a downward spiral.
Desperately afraid that he would regain the weight he had lost and be mistreated again, Slate soon stopped eating altogether during the daytime. At night, famished, he binged. His fears persisted.
He added a grueling exercise regimen, spending six hours a day at the gym. At home, he mercilessly critiqued his body in the mirror. Was it toned enough? Were the striations of his muscles evident along his flanks? “My [obsessive compulsive disorder] focused on my body,” Slate says. “I still struggle with it to this day.” Slate estimates that his struggle with bingeing took up 50 percent of his day once he reached college; eventually, it overtook his life and he was forced to leave.
“I felt like I was alone,” says Slate, “like nobody had ever been through this.”
Rogers Memorial, which treats patients who suffer from mental illness, started a residential eating disorder program for men – the first of its kind in the nation, according to its staff – in 1997.
Although the Eating Disorder Center at Rogers houses both men and women, the 50 to 70 men treated there yearly meet separately in group sessions with a therapist several times a week. Before coming to Rogers, some of these men attended residential programs in which all of the other patients were women.
“There’s a big relief when they see other guys struggling,” says social worker Steve Miller, who leads the group sessions. Men make up about one in four people who have an eating disorder, but often resist seeking treatment. “There’s a lot of fear and shame,” says Miller.
Residential programs for men with eating disorders have become more numerous today. But even now, because of its reputation and history, Rogers still draws many of its patients from afar. “I would guess that eight out of ten are from different states,” says Miller.
Slate, 26, who lives in Birmingham, Ala., graduated from the program at Rogers in 2015 after a 10-week stay. He now successfully manages his eating disorder and holds two jobs – working at a coffee shop and also as a personal trainer at a gym, which is the realization of a lifelong dream. After reducing his current student debt, he plans to return to college to study kinesiology and nutrition.
“I have a girl who has an eating disorder,” Slate says about a personal-training client. He encourages her to get treatment. “I want to take what I learned at Rogers and share it with other people.”