The typical stereotype of someone with aneating disorder is a white, middle to upper-class woman. However, modern research tells a different story; men now experience eating disorders at a much higher rate than was believed in the past.
As of a decade ago, clinicians believed that only 5% of anorexics were male.
Today, an estimated 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or EDNOS.
Men suffering from this type of disorder are less likely to talk about it or be taken seriously, which leads to eating disorders being largely under-diagnosed and under-treated within this demographic.
Despite men being diagnosed with eating disorders more prevalently now than in the past, the treatment options available to provide adequate help for them are severely lacking. This has created a public health issue that deserves addressing.
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Challenges That Men Face
One of the biggest challenges for men with an eating disorder is finding quality treatment options — oftentimes, this starts with the struggle to realize or admit that there’s a problem.
Many people may find it difficult to recognize that potentially dangerous patterns of disordered eating are occurring if an individual isn’t starving themselves or purging.
There are various forms an eating disorder can take which far surpass anorexia and bulimia, and this is especially true among men.
A few challenges men face that make it hard to identify and treat an eating disorder are:
Males are told by society that they should be tall, lean, and have a muscular build. A man may feel inadequate if his body type differs from this standard and develop an eating disorder in an attempt to reach this ideal.
Males with body issues face shame or discomfort in discussing this with others. Many men fear coming across as feminine or weak if they were to admit they are struggling with an eating disorder.
The Perception Of Eating Disorders Among Males
The negative stigma attached to having an eating disorder as a man is a factor that can lead to avoiding getting treatment or refusing help that is offered to them.
There’s a lack of understanding and education around male eating disorders and the reasons behind that are guilt and shame… The notion of having an eating disorder as a male means that you believe you’re perceived as weaker and not able to take care of yourself. It’s hard to reach out and get help when it means that somebody is questioning their masculinity.
The fear of being perceived as less than masculine is particularly daunting for an individual already struggling with body image issues. This can result in shame or denying there is a problem, which can have very serious consequences.
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The Most Common Eating Disorders Among Men
For men who are struggling with body image or have an unhealthy relationship with food, there are various categories that their disorder can fall into.
Severely cutting calories and eating very little with the goal of rapid weight loss or maintaining a dangerously low weight.
Symptoms of anorexia in men are:
Having a body weight that is unhealthy for their body type, height, or activity level
Preoccupation with body building, weight lifting, or muscle toning
Fear of “getting fat” or being viewed as overweight
Being intensely focused on caloric intake, body shape, and weight
Despite being underweight, still seeing themselves as fat
Some emotional characteristics of anorexia in men include depression, social isolation, a decreased interest in sex, and having a “perfectionist” attitude. Men with anorexia are likely to have lower testosterone levels, and they typically maintain a strong need to be in control.
Eating large amounts, often in secret, and then purging either by vomiting or laxatives.
Symptoms of bulimia in men are:
Eating well beyond the point of being full and purging afterwards
Constantly trying new diets
Fasting after periods of binging
Obsessing over their weight and how they look
Men with bulimia may experience emotional characteristics such as feelings of worthlessness, depression, and difficulty expressing feelings. Physical characteristics of bulimia in men include loss of dental enamel due to vomiting, esophageal tears, and fluctuating weight.
Eating well beyond the point of being full.
Symptoms of binge eating in men are:
Being overweight or obese
Attempting to diet frequently
Fasting after binging
Struggling with depression, anxiety, or feelings of isolation
Feeling out of control during a binge
Emotional and physical characteristics of binge eating in males include feeling disgusted with one’s weight or appearance, increased moodiness, and eating in secret before hiding food wrappers.
A fixation or desire to eat only “healthy” foods and prioritize exercising over social functions or responsibilities.
Symptoms of excessive exercise are:
Working out constantly and feeling anxious if workouts are missed
Obsession with healthy foods
Feeling superior to others because of diet
Limiting entire food groups, such as carbohydrates
An excessive exercise disorder in males is characterized by being obsessed with physical activity to the point that injury or exhaustion doesn’t cause them to stop working out. Men with this condition may also suffer from another form of controlled eating in combination with excessive exercise.
Diet Pill/Stimulant Abuse
Taking supplements to reduce the sensation of hunger and cause temporary weight loss.
Symptoms of Diet Pill or Stimulant addiction are:
Chest pain and irregular heartbeat
Vomiting or nausea
Memory loss and severe headaches
Fixation on getting or taking Diet Pills or Stimulants
Additional emotional and physical characterizations of Diet Pill or Stimulant abuse in men are fluctuating weight, increased paranoia and anxiety, difficulty maintaining relationships, and avoiding friends and family.
Defined as low calorie dieting that restricts consuming various types of foods in order to temporarily lose weight or “eat clean” (gluten-free, vegan, paleo, etc.)
Symptoms of restrictive diets in men:
Constantly trying new diets or “quick fix” fad diets
Cutting out certain food groups entirely, such as carbs or protein, unrelated to a health condition that restricts this type of food
Being constantly worried about getting fat
Obsessing over how they look
Emotional and physical characteristics of an unhealthy, restrictive diet depend on which diet they are on at the time. General characteristics of this eating disorder in men are an obsession with physical appearance, constantly looking for new diets to try, and being secretive about meals or eating habits.
A critical part of the recovery process is determining what caused an eating disorder to develop. The things that can spark disordered eating in men differ from that of women; it is important to seek out treatment from someone trained in male-specific eating disorders.
Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.
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