Caleb Lee Hutchinson is bravely sharing his life-threatening struggles with an eating disorder, hoping to inspire other men to recognize their own issues with food and body image as “valid.” The country crooner, who was runner-up on season 16 of “American Idol,” says his success on the show — and fans’ cruel comments over the years — fueled a dangerous obsession with his weight.
Hutchinson Was So Sick He Was Hospitalized Prior to ‘Idol’ Audition
In 2018, Hutchinson was 18 when he appeared on season 16 of “American Idol.” He landed in second place just behind winner Maddie Poppe, whom he’s been dating since they met on the show. And though viewers were enchanted by their budding romance and rise to fame on “Idol,” Hutchinson was hiding how terrible he actually felt.
On a new episode of his “Green Couch Podcast” released on September 28, 2022, Hutchinson shared his struggles for the first time, in a conversation with his friend Sam Aldrich, formerly a competitive bodybuilder, who said he could relate to Hutchinson’s struggles with body image.
Despite being an active kid and athlete growing up in Georgia, Hutchinson said he found comfort in food and leaned on it when things were hard. In high school, after a bad breakup with his first love and a series of personal hardships, Hutchinson said he weighed around 320 pounds.
Desperate to trim down as his high school graduation approached, he started going to a local gym to hit the treadmill for an hour daily, and only ate one apple and one granola bar each day. He felt sick, he said, but he lost around 60 pounds in less than six months.
“I was hyper-fixated,” he said. “All I wanted…I wanted to take pride in myself, I wanted to prove people wrong that I felt had abandoned me or underestimated me. I was just plain angry. I had a grudge. And it was, like, the first time I had ever taken direct ownership over my body and how I looked. And at the time it was the only thing I cared about. I would have done absolutely anything to be skinny.”
But the obsessive exercising and lack of nutrients took their toll quickly. The summer after Hutchinson graduated from high school — “a month or two” before he auditioned for “American Idol” — he got so sick that he was hospitalized.
“My hair was falling out,” he shared on the podcast. Then, while at the gym, he got a pounding headache “like someone was beating me over the head” and he threw up. For the next four days, he said, any time he would try to eat or take a sip of water, he’d throw it back up. He said he also had difficulty seeing and had full-body shivers all the time. Tests at the hospital revealed his whole body was out of whack. Doctors said it could be mono, but Hutchinson knew it was because of how badly he’d treated his body.
“I was just starving myself and my body was, like, shutting down,” he said. “They told me my organs were weird and stuff was happening that wasn’t good. So I think, like, my body was just kind of dying, honestly.”
After being in the hospital, medication helped his headaches and he could stomach a little bit of food, but he lost 20 more pounds in a week. Looking back, he realizes one of the signs he’d developed an eating disorder was how glad he was about the additional weight loss.
“I felt so good about it,” he recalled. “I was so sick and felt so miserable but I would’ve took it again if it meant I could lose another 20 pounds in like a week.”
“I’m not endorsing this,” he told listeners. “This is like the worst — one of the worst times, looking back. Because I would have…risked killing myself to feel good about how I looked.”
‘Idol’ Producers Inadvertently Fueled Eating Disorder With Weight Loss Storyline
On the podcast, Hutchinson revealed that shortly after his hospitalization, when he advanced through the auditions for “American Idol,” the producers asked him for information about his life so they could tell viewers more about him. The only thing he could think to share was that he’d recently lost so much weight.
Rather than admit his obsession with losing weight, he said, “I just had to be cute about it. I was like, you know, ‘I quit drinking soda and I walked more!’ It’s like no, I am in constant agony. I have lost 100 pounds and I still feel fat.”
Producers highlighted his weight loss on the show as a great success story, yet Hutchinson said it put a spotlight on his appearance, which was difficult to handle.
“I remember my audition aired and at that point, you know, I felt like I’d lost a ton of weight and, like, people were referring to me as the ‘fat kid,'” he recalled. “So it just kind of pushed me into overdrive of like, ‘I’m going to get skinny.’ And I did by the end of the show. I mean, you’re out there and everything’s going on and you don’t really have time to eat, so I got down to 185. I think that was my lightest weight ever.”
As Hutchinson Tried to Get Healthy, Fan Comments About His Weight Tore Him Apart
After all the hoopla after “American Idol” died down, Hutchinson decided he would start bodybuilding to put on a bit of weight healthfully, by building muscle. But as soon as he put on a few pounds, fans started commenting on photos of him.
“People would message me and be like, ‘It’s so sad that after everything, you’re losing your progress, that you’re backtracking. It’s so sad you went through so much to look good and now you’re getting ugly again.’ And dude, that really messed me up. And so I started to slip into, I guess I would say, bulimic tendencies. Because I would eat and then I would throw up.”
Though Hutchinson feels he now has a healthier relationship with food and with his body, it’s an ongoing struggle he has to monitor. As a public figure, it continues to be difficult to not let fans’ comments about his appearance impact him, but he said he’s getting better at it.
In his Instagram Stories on October 4, Hutchinson shared mean comments he’d received from fans that very day about his appearance, including a new tattoo he got on his forearm. Over the screenshots, he wrote, “I gotta wonder why anyone cares so much. Like I get I was on a TV show 5 years ago but what causes someone to think, ‘oh man, he doesn’t look that way anymore, I’m so mad…”
He continued, “Some of y’all are just miserable people. Go take a walk and tell someone you love them.”
Hutchinson said on his podcast that he plans to produce a YouTube video about his experience with eating disorders, particularly for men.
“Not a lot of men talk about this kind of thing,” he said. “So part of the reason that I didn’t suspect I had a problem was because I genuinely thought that was only for, like, women — L.A. actress model girls! So, yeah, for any men listening, it’s just as valid, dude.”
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), one in three people with an eating disorder is male and “subclinical eating disordered behaviors (including binge eating, purging, laxative abuse, and fasting for weight loss) are nearly as common among men as they are among women.” If you or someone you know is struggling, NEDA offers an online screening tool, and web or phone chats with trained professionals via their website.