Educating Men About Eating Disorders

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Former pro baseball player Mike Marjama credits Kaiser Permanente with saving his life after he suffered from an eating disorder. Now he’s helping others get well.

Mike Marjama spent years climbing to the top of Major League Baseball. This past spring, he was the starting catcher for the Seattle Mariners.

Just 4 months after the 2018 opening night, however, the 28-year-old Roseville-area resident rocked the baseball world by announcing his retirement. But he wasn’t just leaving the game amid the lingering injuries that had knocked him back down to the minor leagues.

He left baseball to follow his true passion: Raising awareness about eating disorders.

It’s familiar turf for Marjama, who starved himself as a teenager in a nearly fatal attempt to pursue the sculptured body of an Abercrombie & Fitch model. That is, until Kaiser Permanente’s outpatient and inpatient eating disorders program “saved his life.” Ever since, Marjama has been on a mission to educate young men about the dangers of eating disorders.

Big Leagues Not the End Goal

“Getting into the big leagues was awesome and great, but that really wasn’t the end goal,” Marjama said. “I’ve always been known as a baseball player, but I think it would be so cool to be known for something else and making an impact outside of just being an athlete.”

He’s doing just that.

Since leaving professional baseball in July, Marjama has been on a whirlwind tour across the country, including guest spots on Good Morning America, Bleacher Report, and The Doctors. On weekends, he’s the celebrity ambassador at fundraiser walks on behalf of the National Eating Disorders Association.

Eating disorders are deadly, he says, and if you’re a male, you don’t have it any easier than females, because the stigma is more profound.

“For men, we have this common misconception that it’s not masculine to have problems; we’re supposed to have answers for everything,” Marjama said.

Help from Mom — and Kaiser Permanente

Marjama grew up in a loving home in Granite Bay, near his nurse practitioner mother’s workplace, Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center. He was a gifted athlete who wanted to be bigger and stronger, so he started eating less and working out more beginning around 8th grade.

His mom was terrified.

“It was the most difficult issue to watch our son deteriorate and struggle,” said Kim Marjama. “No matter what we did to help him, he rejected our efforts and became more covert in his disorder — hiding a lot of what he was doing. At the time, I had to reconcile that he could die. The thought of burying a child was unacceptable. So, I got to work and forced him into care. He was pretty mad at me then.”

Marjama entered Kaiser Permanente’s Eating Disorders Intensive Outpatient Program in Sacramento. Yet, even then, Marjama felt convinced that food was getting in the way of a 6-pack abdomen.

It wasn’t until he was a high-school junior who lost 14 pounds in two days that his eating disorder experts had had enough. Marjama was loaded onto a stretcher outside his counselor’s office. “They were afraid my heart was going to just shut off,” he said.

Marjama was sent to a contracted inpatient eating disorders program and his life finally started to turn around.

“Mike is a courageous and thoughtful young man,” said Lisa Loker, LCSW, manager of the Kaiser Permanente Sacramento eating disorder clinic. “He will inspire other young men to step forward and improve the quality of their lives and futures, as he has done for himself.”

“I would like to thank Kaiser Permanente for supporting me through treatment and allowing me to follow my hopes and dreams.” Marjama said. “Without that treatment, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Discussion3 Comments

  1. I think young men have problems with body image. My son, who has a very muscular physique and is athletic, was teased by his classmates as “fat.” I never knew this because he kept it to himself. Now he has his first job and is doing very well. However, it is a myth that men do not have body image issues. I am very glad that Mike is raising awareness.

  2. Having recently lost a male friend to this illness, this article hit home for me. I wish Mr. Marjama godspeed in his career.

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