Anorexia Striking Increasing Number of Boys

Charlie Mileski, 19, had always been a good eater, even a few healthy pounds overweight. But when he was 14, his mother had open heart surgery. During her recovery, the doctor told the whole family it would have to eat healthier and exercise more. Charlie's anxiety triggered behaviors that soon developed into an eating disorder -- anorexia.

"They really stressed exercise," Charlie said. "And pretty much since that day forward, I started to run seven miles a day. And then I started counting calories and fiber and cholesterol, things like that."

Like other victims of anorexia, Charlie took his food and weight obsession to the extreme. Although approximately 10 percent of anorexics are male, they suffer from many of the same symptoms as females.

"I wouldn't eat things that didn't have a label," Charlie said. "So if you gave me an apple, I wouldn't eat that because it didn't have the exact nutritional value."

"He told me there was 24 calories in licking a postage stamp," his father, Joe Mileski, recalled.

The number of male eating disorder cases is on the rise, said Dr. Theodore Weltzin, director of eating disorder programs at Wisconsin's Rogers Memorial Hospital. The hospital has the only residential facility in the country for males. Charlie was treated there.

"In addition to concern about heart disease and health and obesity," Weltzin said, "males are getting really distorted messages about their bodies and going to extremes to try to deal with that."

The road to recovery for Charlie, who's attending college now, has been long and painful.

"It's just that when you look at TV shows and everyone that's successful has a six-pack," Charlie said.

Rapid Decline

Within a three-month period, Charlie, who's 5-foot-10, went from a healthy 150 pounds to a life-threatening 104 pounds. His mother, Pam, remembered his decline.

"I knew something was wrong with him," she said. "I was scared to death."

It was a terrible time for Charlie, too.

"I didn't look in the mirror," he said. "I couldn't stand myself. I was really angry with the world. I mean, why did this happen to me? I was really nervous because I knew -- a part of me knew -- I could die. I mean, when you're feeling chest pains when you're 14 years old, I don't think that's a good sign."

For the Mileskis, life with an anorexic son became a nightmare as several treatments failed.

"I remember making the commitment, he's not going to die," Pam Mileski said. "I mean that's how I felt. If he doesn't eat and he keeps doing this, we're going to lose him. And I'm not going to let that happen."

Getting the Right Help

Charlie finally got the help he needed at Rogers Memorial Hospital. There, he was put on a feeding tube at night, which pumped 3,000 calories to 4,000 calories into his system.

Once Charlie was stable physically, he began the really tough climb -- fighting his self-destructive thoughts and feelings. His therapy included expressing his struggle physically and artistically.

"I can look in the mirror and actually say I'm satisfied, with some work, to my body," Charlie said. "And half the time I'm satisfied with my body. And half the time I can just throw up at the sight of it."

"I think that we have come to grips that he may always be thin," Pam Mileski said. "And that's OK, as long as he's a healthy thin."

Charlie has had a difficult recovery, including relapses, and still fights the disease every day.

"I guess the one thing people need to know is that there is help out there and you need to get it," he said. "I don't believe you can get better on your own."

There were no warning signs that Charlie would develop anorexia, his parents said.

"When he was going into ninth grade, we both agreed that Charlie was our easiest to raise," Joe Mileski said. "I mean, a fantastic kid, great student, great personality, just had everything in front of him. Little did we know in less than a year later everything fell apart for him."

"He was just a delightful kid," Pam Mileski said. "Just happy, a homebody, just always there, funny."

What to Look For

Parenting expert Ann Pleshette Murphy offered this advice to parents about identifying boys with eating disorders:

Boys are often afraid to ask for help because they think eating disorders are a "girl thing."

Boys who suffer from eating disorders often have low self-esteem, which is both a symptom and cause of the disorder.

Bulima is more common for boys. Some might take pride in "working out so hard they threw up," so parents might not recognize it as bulima.

Warning signals very similar to ones you see in girls: restricting meals and strange eating habits; fierce determination to get fit and exercising excessively; irritability and isolation.

It's hard to distinguish between normal teenage behavior and bigger problems. If you are suspicious, sitting your teen down for a lecture could backfire. The rule of thumb is to "act, don't tell." Talk while doing something else, and dad has to be there to help.

Researchers have foung that many boys with eating disoders have a history of being a bit heavier or physically undeveloped. They might also be the subject of teasing at school, and the concentrate on what they see as improving their bodies.

Parenting expert Ann Pleshette Murphy originally reported this story for "Good Morning America."