Men with Eating Disorders
Long considered to be an illness that solely affects women, eating disorders are increasingly affecting men as well. The National Eating Disorders Association estimates that eating disorders affect 10 million men in the United States at some point in their lives. Additional research indicates that anywhere from 25-40% of the total number of people with eating disorders are men (Mulheim, 2020; National Eating Disorders Association, n.d.). Specifically, men account for:
- 25% of all individuals with anorexia
- 30% of all individuals with bulimia
- 36% of all individuals with binge eating disorder; and
- 43% of all individuals diagnosed with avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder¹
The numbers don’t lie. The pressure to look (and feel) a certain way impacts men of all ages. Never before have so many men found themselves increasingly struggling, which is a crucial risk factor for the development of an eating disorder. So, what does it look like to be a man struggling and why don’t we know about it?
Why Don’t We Notice What’s Going On?
Due to the stigma and shame associated with the previously held belief that men and boys do not suffer from eating disorders, many people fail to recognize that their behaviors such as following a rigid diet, compulsive exercise, even binge eating, are symptoms and manifestations of a clinical eating disorder. When, or if, they do recognize that their behaviors are disordered, many men do not seek treatment because of the intense shame and lack of understanding around men suffering with eating disorders. This means that by the time men do seek treatment, their eating disorders are often more severe and they are more entrenched in the disorder (Mulheim, 2020).
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Eating disorders present differently in all genders, be on the lookout for in men:
- Obsession with food, body purity, perfection, and strength
- Intense feelings of dissatisfaction with their bodies
- The (mis)perception that weakness is intolerable
- A preoccupation with personal health, to the detriment of oneself
- Seeking extreme control over food through the guise of health
- Bingeing, especially on proteins
- Compulsive exercise as a compensatory behavior to control weight
- Feelings of guilt or shame after eating
- Lack of positive mood surrounding body and food
- Muscle dysmorphia, an intense fear that one is not muscular enough, rather than a constant drive for thinness
Eating Disorders in Men are Highly Under Diagnosed
…and are more difficult to recognize because they more easily hide under the facade of what is considered acceptable, healthy, even praised, behavior. The good news is that access to treatment and care is on the rise for men with eating disorders. In an effort to continue raising awareness around men’s experiences with eating disorders, we must address the ongoing gender biases that exist around eating disorders in general. This includes the language that is typically used around eating disorders as well as improving access to treatment. Eating disorders do not discriminate when it comes to gender (or race, socioeconomic status, size, ability, etc.). They are complex mental illnesses that can affect everyone and treatment should reflect that.