DEAR ABBY: I'm a 21-year-old man who has been a successful swimmer in high school and now in college. Over the past few months, I have become obsessed with developing six-pack abs. I have never had much success with women, and I thought that looking like a movie star might finally get me noticed and make me feel good about myself.
As a result, I have become obsessive about my diet. I have dropped 10 pounds, mostly muscle, and my performance in the pool has suffered. If I don't see perfect definition between every ab and don't exercise for at least 2 1/2 hours a day, I feel fat and guilty whenever I eat. I have awakened in the middle of the night worrying about what I'll eat the next day. I'm concerned for the future when my metabolism will inevitably slow down.
I have begun to think that death is a better scenario than being fat, or feeling that way. I want to be able to enjoy eating again and get my life back. I don't want to tell my parents or friends for fear of seeming weak-minded. Where can I go for help?
- Feeling Lost in New Mexico
DEAR FEELING LOST: Physical perfection is no guarantee that you'll find love. Liking yourself and accepting yourself for who you are attracts others.
Although "looking like a movie star" can be an asset - depending upon who the movie star is - unless you are secure about who you are and what you have to offer, you can't maintain a healthy relationship. (If you don't believe me, start counting how many movie star romances resemble a game of musical chairs.)
If you truly think that death might be preferable to being fat, then you are in trouble. You may have a serious eating disorder, one that could shorten your life.
Most people who have an eating disorder need professional help to overcome it, so the place to go is to your student health center. Ask to speak with a mental-health counselor about what you're doing and how you're feeling. It is important that you understand what has caused this so you can be successfully treated.