The Importance of Men’s Well-being: A Discussion

I was invited during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week by colleagues in the field to write about Males with Eating Disorders.

Male Eating Disorder and Mental Health

Dear Eating Disorder Colleagues,

As I sat down after a long day of conversations with a cup of tea, I settled in, and began to reflect on how large and vast the community continues to become.  There is evidence that our work on social, academic and therapeutic ideologies are breaking through on multiple fronts and burgeoning into our mainstream culture.   I can see the founders and initial installers of NEDA, ASDAH, NAMED, AED, IAEDP and others taking a moment to breathe and recognizing where we were and where we are today.

Thank you.

Today, as I worked with clients and collaborated on ideas that match their treatment needs, I was reminded of the vast differences we as professionals have. These differences can be vast. As a community working to find ideology that stems across all genders and sizes the search for clarity can ignite a call for validation. It even can create rifts when it comes to best care. in 2019, I personally and professionally come across multiple people with credible informed perspectives plugging away and behaviorists that believe I am out of my mind. I’ve met individuals creating social justice movements and I’ve seen communities of people come together to find recovery and healing.  It’s incredible to watch and it’s something that has stuck with me, particularly in the past year.

Thank you for the opportunity to take part in some small way.

This leaves me asking: Where are the men? Where are the guys working with guys? Could this be one of the deficits we face? Should we care? Maybe we shouldn’t.

I have been asked to write about men and eating disorders and I’m not sure that our community is interested.  A topic that is overlooked and an outlier to the mainstream eating disorder conversation. Some organizations are doing a concerted and wonderful job at inclusion and that is one heck of a task, no one is ever happy all the time.  In private, I worry interest seems to wane and we aren’t doing enough to drum up awareness that there’s a real problem out there. I’ve looked into one too many conferences to see it can easily go on without speaking about men. This makes sense as attendance at male focused conference breakout sessions are notoriously lower than other sessions.

Men don’t get an even share of research funding, they don’t create communities, they don’t even want to show up to therapy.

Should you care?

Maybe not.  Men have created their own pot to p*ss in. Some can argue that their aim for societal mystiques have fueled the cultural climate we live in. I partially agree and there is always more going on than an easy explanation. Is it easier to devalue the male gendered experience? It’s hard to find men who outwardly value the quest for self cohesion. It is often shadowed by the strive for influenced masculinity.  Male connection between other males is thwarted by an internalized fear of femininity.  What once was fun is beginning to become lost. Sports are more intense. Nutrition is more confusing than ever.  Societal pressures to excel have heightened. Masculinity norms empower hyper ego-syntonicity as our guys are trying to make sense of their internal and external worlds. Can we blame the silent struggle they face for all of this.  Everyone feels pain, it is happening to them too.

We need to believe in the young gentleman who’s struggled since childhood and continues to believe his size is a problem.  He looked up to anyone with thin privelege, hoping to avoid prejudicial treatment.. He started body checking, food became more restrictive, no alarms were sent with a loss in weight.  Secondary gains empowered a sense of toughness and strength. The extended push for physical achievement only perpetuated further damage.  The gentleman ends up “cut,” “shredded,” and obsessive.   He’s at the gym every day, he surrounds himself with posters and videos of strength. His friends begin to peel away, he talks only about body and food, he looks at his reflection to make sure his muscles haven’t become disproportionate a minimum of 75x between 7am and 12noon. He believes creatine and protein supplements are wonderful and GNC is his favorite store. This week is if for him.   #comeasyouare

Should we care?

Maybe so. Helping male gendered individuals that have dieted their entire lives and continue to face stigmas about their body and minds is core to the work. Their struggle with male corsetry is often at the forefront of their minds as facing stigmatization should never be done alone. Not good enough, too big, judged, struggling with body acceptance, interpersonal worry, labelling such as lazy, gross, socially inhibited, and so much more effects the male gender too. This week is for them.   #comeasyouare

Maybe more so… The increase in adolescent boys struggling with stunted growth, selective eating, restrictive patterns for fears associated with body image is going to cause a tidal wave. This week is about honoring everyone in the community including the young guys.  Including the adolescents who are just trying to figure out what it’s like to have a body.  Including the parents who struggle to love their child just as his gender requires, physically. This week is for all of them.  #comeasyouare

Maybe we should care…

Males cope and see their bodies differently. They enter puberty a little later than girls.  Therefore have more opportunity to halt their growth patterns due to restriction and selectivity.  Offering optimism that is geared for their needs is extremely tough. We do our best. As a whole, I worry that our professional output feels alexithymic when it comes to men. It’s a bit of a barren scenario as we are trying to build a structure in the middle of a desert, not able to recognize nor verbalize what we need.

The ability to find meaning in a world that harps on body size, musculature, success, power & control, and expectations to “man up” are beating down our guys.

Every guy we meet has a soul.  Every Man we meet doesn’t have to do this alone.  Everyone, i’m not asking you to stop your work and focus on guys.  We need to find a way to include them. We all have children, sons, loved ones, eventual loved ones and additions to our families.   It affects all of us and I wish we could find more ways to care.