Despite the stereotype that eating disorders only occur in women, about one in three people struggling 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.
Across the world, it is widely recognised that eating disorders will affect millions of males at some point in their lives. But due in large part to cultural bias, they are much less likely to seek treatment for their eating disorder. The good news is that once a man finds help, they show similar responses to treatment as women. Several factors lead to men and boys being under- and undiagnosed for an eating disorder. Men can face a double stigma, for having a disorder characterised as feminine for seeking psychological help. Additionally, assessment tests with language geared to women and girls have led to misconceptions about the nature of disordered eating in men.
Treatment is not one-size-fits-all. For any person, biological and cultural factors should be taken into consideration in order to provide an effective treatment environment.
A gender-sensitive approach with recognition of different needs and dynamics for males is critical in effective treatment. Men and boys in treatment can feel out of place when predominantly surrounded by women.
There are numerous studies on male body image, and results vary widely. Many men have misconceived notions about their weight and physique, particularly the importance of muscularity.
Findings include: Most males would like to be lean and muscular, which typically represents the “ideal” male body type. Exposure to unattainable images in the media leads to male body dissatisfaction.
The sexual objectification of men and internalization of media images predicts drive for muscularity.
The desire for increased musculature is not uncommon, and it crosses age groups. 25% of normal weight males perceive themselves to be underweight and 90% of teenage boys exercised with the goal of bulking up.
Muscle dysmorphia, a subtype of body dysmorphic disorder, is an emerging condition that primarily affects male bodybuilders. Such individuals obsess about being adequately muscular. Compulsions include spending many hours in the gym, squandering excessive amounts of money on supplements, abnormal eating patterns, or use of steroids.
Men with eating disorders may be less likely to seek treatment due to stigmas against mental health treatment as well as the myth that eating disorders only occur in women. The mortality risk for eating disorders is high among men just as it is with women, so it’s important to seek out treatment as soon as possible.
If you’re a man with an eating disorder, it’s also important to talk to your doctor about your physical health as well as your mental health. Men with anorexia are at increased risk for developing bone conditions like osteopenia and osteoporosis and may require testosterone supplement. Men with bulimia may suffer from tooth decay, bowel and esophagus complications, as well as electrolyte imbalances. Men with binge eating disorders may experience higher blood pressure and cholesterol, gallbladder complications, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Talking to a Loved One
If you have a male friend or family member who may have an eating disorder, it’s important to express your concerns about their health. Share with them what behaviors you’ve observed and what worries you. Explain how it hurts you to see them struggling, and praise the positive traits (non-physical) you see in them. Ask them what they would like to do and if they need anyone to help them find help. If you are the parent of a minor, it’s important to engage them in the process and ask what kind of help they’d like.
Eating disorders are treatable, and help is available for men who struggle with one. Lois Bridges is Ireland’s only dedicated Residential and Daypatient care facility solely for treatment of Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorders for both men & women.
If you need advice for yours or a loved one’s eating disorder treatment – we would welcome your call. Please contact us confidentially on (01) 839 6147