Like many aspiring professional baseball players, Mike Marjama hustled hard on the minor league baseball circuit for seven years before finally landing his dream job as a Major League Baseball catcher for the Seattle Mariners.
But after playing in only 15 games from 2017-2018, Marjama abruptly announced his retirement from baseball last Monday, seemingly throwing his dreams away.
Why? Well, to pursue a higher calling than trying to make pitchers look good. In a letter that he tweeted out last week, Marjama said that he had decided to accept a role as an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). His decision was inspired by his own personal struggle with an eating disorder when he was a teenager.
“For me, my professional career, and even playing in college, was icing on the cake,” Marjama tells MensHealth.com. “I’d accomplished everything I ever wanted to in the game.”
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”und” dir=”ltr”><a href=”https://t.co/MIqG03wDXK”>pic.twitter.com/MIqG03wDXK</a></p>— Michael Marjama (@MMarjama) <a href=”https://twitter.com/MMarjama/status/1016413725819953152?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>July 9, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>
For Marjama, 28, becoming an ambassador for NEDA marks a full circle in his life. As an adolescent in California, Marjama developed anorexia and bulimia for five years before undergoing inpatient treatment. Now, it’s his hope that he can be a source of strength for men, who may be discouraged from speaking publicly about their eating disorders.
“The [stereotype] is that male athletes are supposed to look a certain way and if you don’t, then you’re somehow at a disadvantage,” Marjama says. “A lot of these stigmas that we’re associating with men coming out [about their eating disorders] and feeling emasculated are ruining people’s identities. I really love the idea of being body-positive and teaching people to be confident in who they are.”
“Everything about me looked normal, but the things that were going on inside my head weren’t normal.”
Eating disorders among men are on the rise. According to NEDA, one-third of the people struggling with an eating disorder is male, with eating disorders affecting an estimated 10 million men at some point in their lives.
Eating disorders are also deadly. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate — 10 percent — of any psychiatric disorder. Further, NEDA says that men with anorexia “are at a higher risk of dying, in part because they are often diagnosed later, since many people assume males don’t have eating disorders.”
Marjama can relate.
“You think of anorexia and you think of someone who looks severely emaciated. As we know [now], that’s not true,” Marjama says. “If you were to look back at me when I was suffering, I never really looked like I was emaciated. Everything you saw about me looked normal, but the things that were going on inside my head weren’t normal.”
Marjama says his issues with disordered eating started when he was 12 years old.
“I was becoming attracted to girls,” he says. “I started seeing that some boys were maturing, and I knew I really wasn’t that guy.”
He adds that it didn’t help that his friends at school would be lugging around Abercrombie & Fitch shopping bags, showing off the male models’ chiseled physiques.
“I was like, ‘You know what? If I want a girlfriend, I need to have a six-pack,’” he remembers thinking. “It kind of started consuming me. I thought that if you work out a ton — you see all these people working out and getting big — and if you don’t eat anything, you won’t get fat.”
Things got worse when Marjama’s friend encouraged him to join their junior high school’s wrestling team, where he learned tactics to cut weight. “I went from really restricting and overexerting and working out to points of binging and anorexia and bulimia,” Marjama recalls.
One Thanksgiving, when Marjama was a sophomore in high school, he remembers having just two baby carrots and three almonds on his plate. He became so hell-bent on perfecting his body that he remembers placing a stationary bike in the shower and pedaling furiously with trash bags duct-taped to his body, while wearing two pairs of sweatshirts and sweatpants. He’d ride the bike in the steam to sweat and burn more calories until he almost lost consciousness.
Getty ImagesStephen Brashear
Sensing something was seriously wrong, Marjama’s parents hired a personal trainer to create a meal plan for Marjama and help him get fit in a safe, healthy way. But Marjama ignored the trainer’s advice. The situation became dire when Marjama lost 14 pounds in four days during his junior year, prompting his panicked parents to check him into a local inpatient center for treatment.
“There were suicidal kids there and no doors,” Marjama remembers about the place. “I realized that I was being associated with kids truly trying to hurt themselves. That’s how much I was a danger to myself.”
That startling realization, coupled with the fact that Marjama couldn’t play baseball that year, led to him deciding to get serious about his recovery. “I remember thinking, ‘I may never play baseball again,’” he says.
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Slowly, Marjama embarked on the lengthy recovery process. He was selected in the 23rd round of 2011 MLB Draft, and after years of staying the course, he finally got called up to the majors by the Mariners in September 2017.
Just before catching for star pitcher Felix Hernandez during the Mariners’ first game of the 2018 season, Marjama candidly spoke about his struggle with eating disorders in a mini-documentary on Uninterrupted, LeBron James’s multimedia platform for athletes. He says he’s received dozens of messages from men who have struggled with eating disorders.
“A vast majority of the people reaching out on social media have been men saying, ‘I work for a large company and I’ve struggled with this. I’ve had family members struggle with this,’” Marjama says.
His decision to quit the majors was not an easy one. But a recent concussion and back injury, combined with a pulmonary embolism he suffered in 2016, cemented his decision.
“My job [as NEDA ambassador] is to be out there, tell my story and hopefully show that full recovery from an eating disorder is possible. But the biggest thing is [advocating for] early detection and intervention,” he says.
Although Marjama’s work with NEDA may very well save lives, he doesn’t think of himself as a hero or role model. “I’d like to think of myself as a normal guy who has been through some things,” he says.
If you or someone you know has symptoms of an eating disorder, seek treatment immediately or call NEDA’s Helpline at (800) 931-2237 Monday-Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. ET and Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET.
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