Eating and control

Smithsburg man develops resources to help others who have eating disorders

Smithsburg man develops resources to help others who have eating disorders

August 25, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

SMITHSBURG - Starving on purpose had nothing to do with how Patrick Bergstrom felt about his body.

Bergstrom, a 25-year-old athlete from the Smithsburg area, struggled with anorexia, keeping it secret from his family and friends. It started during his senior year in college, when life became chaos, and food and weight were the only things Bergstrom felt he could control.

Now that he's recovering, Bergstrom is willing to share his story, with hopes that his struggles might help others going through the same thing. Bergstrom blogs about his experience as a recovering anorexic and has founded the Web site,, where he hopes to gain support and raise awareness for people who have eating disorders. He formed a support group that meets from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays at Transitions, a therapy center in Hagerstown.

"I'm going to go public with this," Bergstrom said. "I feel like I will be judged, but I'm OK with that because I've been blessed and I'm in a position to help others."


Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder most often associated with teens and women, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It is characterized by extreme reduction of food intake and preoccupation with weight.

Like other eating disorders, anorexia is tied to underlying psychological issues that have nothing to do with food.

"It's a control issue," said Lisa McCoy, a registered dietitian at Washington County Health Department.

McCoy counsels people who suffer from eating disorders. She says in order to treat the eating disorders, people must acknowledge the psychological aspect.

"Food is the venue they use to deal with emotional issues," McCoy said.

For Bergstrom, it was the stress of balancing school with the demands of being a college lacrosse player, the pressure to find work in marketing or business after college, and strains in his personal relationships that led to his anorexia, he says.

Bergstrom was an attackman for the Wesley College lacrosse team in Delaware. It was the culmination of years of hard work.

Bergstrom says he has been playing lacrosse for as long as he could pick up a stick. It was the family sport - all three of the Bergstrom kids played. Their father Bob Bergstrom played lacrosse, too. Patrick's sister Erin, 20, plays lacrosse for Shippensburg University. His brother also played in college. Even the family's border collie, Lax, is named for lacrosse.

Bergstrom attributes his success as an athlete to his being a perfectionist. As a 5-foot-6 college player, Bergstrom was considered short. But he was determined to work harder than the rest of the guys. He says he was the kind of player who would continue to play despite injury. His work ethic prevailed on the field.

But in college, maintaining perfection in all the aspects of his life began to be a struggle. His mentor and coach was killed in a surfing accident. Bergstrom wasn't getting along with other members of the coaching staff. There was still the pressure to maintain good grades and find a post-graduate job.

Bergstrom said that by senior year, he slid into bad eating habits, eventually developing anorexia as a way to assert control over his life.

His family had no idea.

"We knew he was losing weight, but we just thought he was allowing himself enough time to eat," said his father Bob Bergstrom.

His sister said she had suspicions, but was never sure.

"He appeared to be happy, but I knew he really wasn't," Erin Bergstrom said.

In March, Bergstrom said he was down to 108 pounds. At an all-time emotional low, he decided to seek treatment at a Florida facility for 30 days.

Bergstrom said he's grateful for his family for providing the support system and helping him in his recovery. Part of the reason he decided to start the Web site and form the support group was because he had a hard time finding resources locally, especially for men.

He's also faced challenges in his personal life.

When Bergstrom told his family and friends about his plans to seek treatment, his fiancée, whom he had known since his college years, decided to call off their May wedding. Bergstrom said the reason she gave was because she had lost herself in his eating disorder. They haven't talked since, Bergstrom said.

"If she thought she was losing herself," Bergstrom said, "she did the best thing for herself."

Bergstrom is convinced he can overcome anorexia, though he still considers himself to be in recovery. He said if he could offer any bit of advice to another guy who thinks he might have an eating disorder, it would be to tell someone about it.

"And that is the hardest step to take," Bergstrom said.

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