Honors student shares his struggle with eating disorder
By only taking a quick glance at 190-pound human biology junior Andres Torres, it would be tough to see that in the summer of 2014, he was the same weight as a child.
A member of the MSU Honors College and a regular on the dean’s list, Andres has always had a bright mind. His mother, Jennifer Torres, said he kept his emotions to himself, however was always the life of the party.
A phone call to his mother sparked the realization that Andres was in desperate need of help.
“It was about two in the morning, he never calls me in the middle of the night like that,” Jennifer said. “All he said was, ‘I need help.'”
Andres was taken to the emergency room. His body was in such poor shape from lack of food that the doctor had to strike a realization in Andres.
“If you stay on this path you will be dead within a month, this is not a joke, that is not a scare, this is factual evidence,” Andres said his doctor told him. “You are 97 pounds, you are a 9-year-old girl's weight.”
His weight was not the only issue — the small thin legs that Andres had showed an apparent lump. In June 2014 a tumor was discovered, but they could not tell whether it was cancerous or not because they would have to operate in order to find out.
“I was so sick that doctors didn’t want to operate on me ... because if they put me under, they thought that would kill me,” Andres said.
To his luck, the tumor was benign.
Andres said he was always slightly overweight in high school, and college gave him a fresh start to reinvent himself.
As Andres began to work out and learn more about healthy living and exercise, he dropped from 240 pounds to a fit 190 pounds.
“He was in the best shape that I had ever seen him,” Jennifer said.
Upon returning home in May of 2014 to visit his family, Andres was delivered some troubling news — his parents were getting a divorce.
Andres said he was always closer to his mother than his father. His father, he said, was very tough on him, just like how his grandfather was tough on his father.
“Everything was toughen up, be a man about it and toughen up,” Andres said. “Because he pushed so hard … you kind of want to work a little less.”
Andres said that there was always stress placed on him by his father to succeed. When his parents split, Andres began to grow more independent than ever.
As Andres returned to MSU, his exercise habits were coupled by food restrictions.
Quickly he went from 190 pounds to 130 pounds in just a few months.
“Being 130 pounds as a six-foot-tall male … I was skin and bones,” Andres said. “I was eating about 200 calories a day and burning about 1,600 calories a day from running 13 miles a day.”
His next return home sparked red flags for his mother.
“It started out with an obsession, extreme exercising … constantly looking at how many calories something had, constantly looking at his body, defining every muscle,” Jennifer said. “He looked like he was very, very ill.”
Jennifer helps foster children by trade. Her experiences helping children in abusive situations is something she sees all the time.
Now that her son was more than 18 years old, his medical records would remain private. This was hard on Jennifer, she said, because she wasn’t able to get the feedback from doctors that she wanted.
Another issue was the lack of support for males with eating disorders. Andres said even doctors seemed unsympathetic because it was seen as a female disease.
Jennifer was caught in a tough predicament. She knew something was wrong and her son needed help. However, telling Andres and potentially making him more upset was always on her mind.
“If I mentioned something about his weight loss, it would upset him and he would leave,” Jennifer said. “So I went through a phase, ‘Do I want to upset him and make him leave?’”
With a lack of confrontation, Andres continued to get thinner. His body was showing immense physical signs of his illness.
Andres said his skin became stretchy and yellow, his arms were growing lanugo, which are tiny hairs that are produced in order provide extra insulation for the body. Andres said his body was so thin that he would need to wear multiple layers of clothing to stay warm and to provide cushioning.
With his physical appearance changing, Andres wanted to hide himself from others.
“I started running outside because I didn’t want people in the gym to see the looks on my face,” Andres said. “I didn’t really have the muscular strength to be doing it, but I wasn’t one of those people to just quit.”
At Andres’ worse point, he would restrict himself for multiple days in a row.
“It was bad, my max was right toward the end of July,” Andres said. “I didn’t eat for six days straight.”
Andres said that after not eating for six days straight, he slept for almost three days, his body having little energy to function. He said his condition was so bad that if he ate a piece of pizza, he wouldn’t eat for the next day.
“I hugged him and I could actually feel his organs inside of his body,” Jennifer said. “I could feel his organs pumping.”
Andres said he was waiting for someone to step in and help, however, people were afraid to intervene, especially his father.
“Yelling at someone with a mental illness to just do something, it’s debilitating, it made me to not want to do anything anymore,” Andres said. “It seemed like everyone was more comfortable with me dying than having a conversation with me.”
As Jennifer received that daunting phone call, Andres’ road to recovery began.
Slowly Andres began to gain weight, but he was still faced with challenges.
“You didn’t want to say, ‘you’re getting bigger’ because that would get taken the wrong way,” Jennifer said.
As of March 2015, he is back to a healthy weight. Andres is currently still at a healthy weight, but he said there will always be tough days for him.
“For the rest of my life, there will be days where it will be hard for me,” Andres said. “They say a near-death experience changes your life, definitely, I can attest to every bit of it.”