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Male Eating Disorders: More Common Than You Think

Eating disorders are equal opportunity offenders—prevalent in both female and male populations. Unfortunately, that truth may come as a bit of a surprise to the public. Despite plenty of clinical literature showing eating disorders to be gender-blind, the common misconception is that it is primarily women who battle these destructive diseases. A recent study in Psychiatric Times confirms this. “Eating disorders are often thought of as a ‘female problem,’” the article states. “Even researchers, advocates and treatment providers who are aware that these disorders affect men and boys are plagued by misinformation.” The study provides an example: It is often cited that about ten percent of those who battle with an eating disorder are male, but actually, that number is woefully out of date. “When it was published 25 years ago, it represented the number of men and boys in treatment, not in the general population,” notes the Psychiatric Times report. “In fact, the best available data indicate that males account for 25 percent of individuals with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa and 36 percent of those with binge eating disorder. Most disturbingly, disordered eating practices may, for the first time, be increasing at a faster rate in males than in females.” Clearly, there are many males who struggle with eating disorders, and their struggle isn’t afforded nearly the attention that it deserves—but why, exactly, do so many males have these conditions?

Male Eating Disorders: Causes

The “why” of an eating disorder is always tough to narrow down. There are a number of factors that can affect eating disorders, and in many cases, an eating disorder may develop in response to trauma or some other form of mental illness. In other cases, an eating disorder—like depression or anxiety—comes down to matters of brain chemistry. Family dynamics, when they are abusive or stressful, can also play a role. All of these triggers can affect men just as surely as they affect women. There is also the issue of body image. Women are constantly assailed by cultural messaging telling them what an idealized body looks like. Men deal with the same thing, even if the specifics may be a little different. Certainly, men face rigid cultural standards of what constitutes a “masculine” body. These standards are even stricter among athletes, and even tougher to deal with within the LGBT community.

Male Eating Disorders: Warning Signs & Treatment

Causes aside, men can struggle with a range of eating disorders—including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and more. To help determine if you or your male friend has an eating disorder, these warning signs might be helpful:
  • You are chronically dieting, even if you are also perpetually underweight.
  • Your weight is in a constant state of flux.
  • You spend far too much time thinking about and obsessing over your caloric intake or the fat content in your foods.
  • You exercise to an extreme, feeling guilt and anxiety if you miss a single fitness session.
  • You engage in secretive or ritualistic eating behaviors—hiding food, eating alone, etc.
  • You grow socially isolated and withdrawn, avoiding groups of people— especially gatherings where food is being served.
  • You continually alternate between overeating and fasting.
All of these warning signs can point to some grim realities—but there is some hopeful news here, as well: No male is ever beyond the scope of eating disorder recovery. With the right clinical intervention, men can achieve lifelong recovery and healing. The first step is to seek out a diagnosis. If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, do not hesitate to reach out for help. Share this on Facebook to help raise awareness!
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