Eric Ceballos tells his story because others like him have not.
Because, when he was 17 and looking for help for his eating disorder, his Google searches all came back with stories from women or gay men. He was neither and felt alien and alone.
“It’s so taboo to talk about,” says the 23-years-old actor, model and social-media activist.
But Ceballos does talk about it, openly.
In February, the Fresno native took part in a Huffington Post video discussion on the complexity of eating disorders. He was the youngest member of the panel and the only male.
Just this month, he shared his story with Buzzfeed at the company’s studio in Los Angeles and in October, he will be a panelist at the National Eating Disorder Association’s annual conference in San Diego.
Not many people pegged Ceballos as the model/actor type. Especially not at 14, when he began driving back and forth to Los Angeles with his mother. People didn’t believe him when he said he’d lined up auditions. The ones who did believe him, members of his family even, wondered why we would waste the gas.
Ceballos had always been the heavy kid. He never looked the part.
He still doesn’t, really. He wears eyeliner and black nail polish. His hair, dyed red, pokes out from under a thick beanie and there are visible tattoos on his arms and hands. When he talks, your eyes are drawn to a pair of dice attached to a piercing on his tongue.
“I’ve always been different,” says Ceballos, who landed work in movies and music videos likes “Sing For Me” from the rock band Yellowcard. He was on a recent episode of Rob Dyrdeks “Fantasy Factory,” and in September he will star in the locally produced sci-fi horror flick, “Life Of The Flesh.”
While there is no singular cause for Ceballos’ eating disorder, it wasn’t just about looking a certain way or fitting in.
In fact, it started as a way to bring order to his life. He was a freshman at Clovis West High School. His parents had just divorced and his brothers had left home.
“Everything was out of my control,” he says.
Except what and when and how he ate.
“He did what a lot of people who develop eating disorders do,” says Steve Schaefer, clinical director at the Eating Disorder Center of Fresno, where Cellabos was treated.
“He began exercising and eating ‘healthy.’”
Ceballos lost 40 pounds the summer before his junior year. He started getting compliments and attention for the way he looked. Eventually, his weight became an obsession. He wouldn’t eat, and he exercised three or four times a day. He started taking diet pills. He lost another 50 pounds.
He also began having heart palpitation and losing his hair.
When his friends and family noticed something wrong, they assumed it was drugs. Ceballos never argued the point. It was easier than explaining the truth.
When his mother finally confronted him, finally said the words “eating” and “disorder,” he didn’t know whether to hug her or run away. Mostly, he felt relief.
The stigma is changing, Schaefer says.
“More men are coming forward with their stories of recovery.”
That means there’s more support for men like Ceballos.
It’s needed. It can up to seven years before a person with an eating disorder goes into remission, Schaefer says. For contrast, alcoholism takes 90 days to two years to be in remission. Cancer takes five years, he says.
“The person recovering from an eating disorder needs as many people to support him as he can find.”
They also need to learn self-care and self-love, rather than seeking acceptance and approval from the outside world, Schaefer says.
That’s true for everyone, regardless of their struggles, Ceballos says. It’s why he speaks out on a variety of issues, including bullying and teen suicide, and why he works with groups like Love is Louder, the social-media youth movement created by actress Brittany Snow. He’s also done work and shared his story with organizations like My Life My Power, Proud2BMe and The River Phoenix Center for Peace Building.
“It’s amazing how many people I’ve been able to help,” Ceballos says. “Life is too short to not be who you are.”