This week, Feb. 22-28, is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and one Carroll County native has taken to social media to advocate from his own experience.
William Hornby, originally from Taneytown, has become well-known on TikTok for being a men’s eating disorder recovery advocate and he uses his platform to encourage people to recognize their problems and to never invalidate their struggles at the same time.
Hornby’s TikTok account is @williamcarvedpumpkins and he said he gained 13,000 followers after posting videos of him carving pumpkins, freehand, in October. His second pumpkin carving video, a carving of the five Muses from Disney’s “Hercules,” went viral with 250,700 views.
His popularity increased drastically about a month later.
After Thanksgiving, Hornby shared a video to remind people that no matter what they ate on Thanksgiving, they still deserved a full day of eating the next day.
Comments started flooding in from people who were inspired by Hornby’s message and he decided to focus the majority of his content on raising eating disorder awareness.
His TikTok account boasts about 126,700 followers as of Thursday, an increase of some 9,500 in just two days.
“That’s where I have the largest following at the moment,” Hornby said. “Ideally, I don’t want to be completely on TikTok because I want this to be a movement of visibility for men with eating disorders, not just me on a TikTok platform.”
‘Critical’ diet culture
Hornby, 21, said he grew up around diet culture and knew he had an eating disorder as early as 10 years old.
“Diet culture is just a culture of development of eating disorders through a capitalistic scheme,” Hornby said. “Essentially, it’s a $72 billion industry with an over 90% failure rate — 90-95% of all people who go on diets gain all of the weight back or more after they dieted.”
Hornby said diet culture teaches individuals to always be unsatisfied with their bodies and question their food choices.
He was diagnosed with Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders in spring 2019, an eating disorder classification for those who do not meet the diagnostic criteria for any other eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder.
Individuals with OSFED commonly have disturbed eating habits, a distorted body imaged, overvaluation of body shape and weight, and an intense fear of gaining weight, according to the Center for Discovery Eating Disorder Treatment website.
About 30% of people who seek treatment for an eating disorder have OSFED and the reasons for developing OSFED differs from person to person.
“That happens for a lot of little boys,” Hornby said. “If you see boys at the pool wearing a shirt in the pool, that’s not good body image. They’re not wearing them to protect themselves from the sun. It’s often bullying from peers, from sports, or having to be in the locker room in the gym.
“Boys are critical of other boys’ bodies as well.”
‘Various degrees of denial’
In the United States, eating disorders will affect 10 million males at some point in their lives, according to the National Eating Disorders Association website. Due in large part to cultural bias, they are much less likely to seek treatment for their eating disorder. Men can sometimes face a double stigma, for having a disorder characterized as feminine and for seeking psychological help, according to the site.
Hornby moved from Taneytown to Baltimore when he was 13 years old to attend Baltimore School for the Arts and said his experience there changed his life and put him on a path to a professional career in the arts. He currently attends Temple University as a dual-degree student pursuing a Bachelor of Business Administration in Business Management and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater.
Hornby started working in professional theater at the lower level at school and said with that came comments from professors and casting directors that focused on his body.
“I had someone in my professional life at one point say to me that I’d never work in the industry if I didn’t slim down and bulk up,” Hornby said. “Another person in my life, a casting director, said that I should have a photo of myself shirtless in my pinned photos on Facebook so they would know what I looked like without a shirt on.”
In another situation, Hornby was requested to take his shirt off during a dance call for an audition. He said he was horrified and chose to take on vegetarianism after feeling pressured by body dysmorphia.
He claimed at the time his reason for starting vegetarianism was for the sake of the environment, but he now says it was just another way to place a restriction on food.
“I think there are various degrees of denial for an eating disorder,” Hornby said. “Our mental health problems never want us to identify them as mental health problems. I have anxiety and depression as well. All three of my main mental health issues, my eating disorder, my anxiety, my depression, I told myself for the longest time that I wasn’t actually suffering with these things.”
An ‘active process’ to eating
Part of Hornby’s social media messaging is to try to help others understand that if their struggles with eating are taking away from their quality of life in any way, they should consider seeking help, whether it’s through therapy or meeting with a dietitian.
“Help does not always look like ‘I’m going to a facility for help,’” Hornby said. “There are definitely different levels of physical health severity that are associated with eating disorders. If you don’t address your small problems, they become big problems.”
Hornby studied abroad in Rome last year prior to the start of the coronavirus pandemic and when he arrived back in the United States, he arranged to meet with a dietitian via telehealth to develop a mindful meal plan to keep him from depriving himself of hunger.
Hornby related his recovery journey to what an addiction would feel like and said it took him a while to realize just how often his mind was concentrated on food and body image.
He is not completely recovered from his eating disorder and is working on intuitive eating, a practice that makes an individual the expert of his or her own body and its hunger signals with no restrictions.
“In the case of addiction, you have to go sober from whatever you’re addicted to and that’s considered recovery,” Hornby said. “It’s learning to live with the craving and cut your body off from it because you can technically survive without it.
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“With food, that’s not the case. There’s a much more active process to learning how to eat, how to feel myself, because you can’t just stop eating. It’s so much harder, but it’s worth it.”