Mt. Lebanon native Brian Cuban tackles male eating disorders through ‘Image’
Like many boys in the ‘Burgh, Brian Cuban idolized Roberto Clemente and played on a Little League team as an adolescent. The Mt. Lebanon native cherishes the memory of hitting a grand slam in his first game.
But that elation later turned to humiliation when Cuban’s coach announced the 200-pound boy would run faster if he pretended he was “chasing a refrigerator to first base.”
“In a moment, I had gone from being a revered power hitter to being called out for what I really was: a fat slob. The illusion was no more,” writes Cuban, now 53, brother of famed entrepreneur Mark Cuban.
The memory is one of many he recounts in his book “Shattered Image” (NetMinds, $16.99). Cuban, who lives in Dallas, details his experience with body dysmorphic disorder, eating disorders, bullying, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, depression and his eventual path back to health.
Cuban says society’s perception of eating disorders as a “women’s disorder” stems back to Karen Carpenter’s death from a heart attack caused by complications from anorexia in 1983.
“Men are the leaders, the wage earners,” Cuban says. “They watch sports. They don’t starve themselves or stick their fingers down their throats.”
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, up to 24 million people of all ages and genders have an eating disorder in the United States. Of those, an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent are men.
Anita Sinicrope Maier, founder of the nonprofit Pennsylvania Educational Network for Eating Disorders in Ross, says while the eating disorder gender gap is slowly closing, men remain far less likely than women to seek treatment for eating disorders.
“Males generally don’t seek psychological counseling as frequently as females,” she says. “They are less likely to talk about emotional difficulties with family and friends.”
Sinicrope Maier remembers one patient who asked her what people would think of him and his “rich little girl” disease. But eating disorders affect people of all ages, genders and socioeconomic statuses, she says.
“You need to understand if you have an eating disorder, you need help,” she says. “It doesn’t mean something is wrong with your masculinity or that you have something to be ashamed of.”
The combination of drug or alcohol addiction with an eating disorder can be deadly, Sinicrope Maier says. In her 30-year career, she’s known three patients who died as a result of alcohol abuse.
Cuban became anorexic in college at Penn State Behrend in Erie, eating less than 600 calories a day, then segueing to bulimia when he would starve himself during the week and then binge and purge on the weekends. He also ran miles upon miles each day. Those disorders followed him to Penn State Main and he began drinking. He later attended Pitt Law School — a decision he admits was made only to avoid facing his future — where he continued to binge, purge and abuse alcohol. Upon graduation, he moved to Dallas, where an enticing party scene made cocaine and other drugs readily accessible.
“Drinking and getting high were magic spells that could briefly make me feel accepted and forget the monster I saw when I looked in the mirror,” he writes.
One day, after not eating and doing three lines of cocaine, he stepped out of his friend’s car and was immediately hit by an oncoming car.
“I roll off the hood and onto the street,” he writes. “A man is standing over me. I notice that my white polo shirt is soaked in blood. A woman starts screaming at me. ‘You walked out in front of us! Call the police!’ I’m still laughing at my airborne somersault. Maybe it’s the cocaine.”
Next came a stint using steroids to enhance his physical appearance, which eventually resulted in Cuban injecting himself in the quadriceps with the same needle he had used to inject another part of his body. He got an infection that went untreated for months and nearly ended with Cuban losing a leg.
Years of addiction and drug abuse followed, until Cuban decided to get help in 2007. Participation in a 12-step program followed and ultimately led him back to sobriety.
Cuban says writing helped him wrestle with his demons. He now receives many emails from men saying they had similar experiences and thought they were the only ones.
“I wrote as part of my recovery, and one of the things I learned is that it’s so important for everyone to realize it is normal to feel shame,” he says. “The hardest part is dropping that shame for one split-second. Trust that somebody else is at the same point, and take a step forward.”
The Pennsylvania Educational Network for Eating Disorders can be reached at 412-215-7967 or www.pened.org
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or [email protected].