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How Are Men And Boys Affected By Eating Disorders

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Certain Eating Disorder Behaviors Are Affecting Males At A Faster Rate Than Women

One 13-Year-Old Boy’s Struggle With An Eating Disorder

There are twice as many women with eating disorders than men. But research suggests certain eating issues are becoming more common among males. In a study that compared data from surveys taken in 1998 and 2008, researchers found that purging and extreme dieting increased at a faster rate in men compared to women.

How Common Are Eating Disorders

Eating disorders affect all kinds of people, including men and women, the young and the old:

  • Approximately 1.25 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder.
  • About 11% of those affected are men and boys.
  • Bulimia is the most common eating disorder, accounting for about 40% of all cases.
  • Anorexia is the second most common, affecting 10% of people with eating disorders.
  • Binge eating disorder and unspecified eating disorders account for the other 50% of cases.
  • The number of hospital admissions for eating disorders treatment rose by about 7% a year between 2005 and 2013.

What Is The Idealized Image For Men Thats Putting Pressure On Them

Males are often more concerned with building muscle mass or gaining weight in order to fit into current societal expectations to be cut or have six-pack abdominal muscles. Men and boys who consider themselves to be bodybuilders are particularly vulnerable to eating disorders.

  • Bodybuilders reported significantly greater body dissatisfaction, with a high drive for bulk, high drive for thinness, and increased bulimic tendencies than either of the other athletic groups. In addition bodybuilders reported significant elevations on measures of perfectionism, ineffectiveness, and lower self-esteem9.

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Common Traits Among Males With Eating Disorders

Body image and weight loss concerns affect men as well as women, and these can often be an underlying factor for eating disorders in males.

But there are some common differences between how eating disorders present in men and women. Males who have eating disorders tend to be older and have a higher rate of co-occurring psychiatric concerns such as anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders.

They are less likely to engage in purging and more likely than women to display suicidal behaviors. Additionally, men are more likely to have been previously overweight than women who have eating disorders.

One big difference between men and women who have eating disorders is that men who are struggling tend to exercise far more frequently. A man who has anorexia, for instance, could mask this by burning calories on the treadmill or spending lengthy amounts of time lifting weights to burn fat.

A man who has binge-eating disorder might take in a huge number of calories. But because these behaviors are seen as somewhat typical male behaviors, they might not be a cause for alarm for the people who care about them.

What Are Typical Behaviors Of Men With Eating Disorders

Resources for men struggling with eating disorders.

Males struggling with bulimia have a high propensity toward engaging in excessive exercise to offset the caloric intake of binge eating than females. Males are not as inclined to engage in purging through self induced vomiting or abusing laxatives.

  • Men are less likely than women to engage in typical bulimic compensatory behaviors, such as vomiting or laxative abuse while having more of an inclination to use excessive exercise as a compensatory method for weight and body shape control5.

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Symptoms To Look For:

Signs to look for when one is suspected of having eating disorders:

  • Preoccupation with weight, diet, food, and calories
  • Consumption of large amounts of no-calorie foods
  • Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
  • Bruises easily
  • Low self-esteem, or self-worth based on weight or size
  • Complaints of being fat or a distorted body image
  • Withdrawn or testy at meal times
  • Rituals at meal time

Screening For An Eating Disorder

If you spot some of the early warning signs of an eating disorder in your child, you might ask some screening questions to get more information. According to the National Eating Disorders Screening Program, these include:

  • Are you terrified of being overweight?
  • Have you gone on eating binges where you feel you may not be able to stop?
  • Do you feel extremely guilty after eating?
  • Do you vomit or have the impulse to vomit after meals?
  • Do you feel that food controls your life?

The American Academy of Pediatrics also suggests asking your child:

  • What do you think you ought to weigh?
  • What is the most you ever weighed? How tall were you then? When was that?
  • What is the least you ever weighed in the past year? How tall were you then? When was that?
  • Exercise: how much, how often, level of intensity? How stressed are you if you miss a workout?

Your child’s answers to these questions might help you to discover whether or not he or she has any of the more classic symptoms of anorexia or bulimia. You might also ask if any of your kids’ friends have an eating disorder. And don’t ignore the warning signs in younger children.

Keep in mind that 10% of people with eating disorders begin before age 10. So even if your 8 or 9-year-old is concerned about getting fat or talks about dieting, look for other red flags that he or she may have an eating disorder.

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Anorexia In Men And Boys: Treatment And Statistics

Even though eating disorders are often associated with youth and femininity, men can also develop unusual thoughts and behaviors involving food and weight. In fact, according to the British eating disorders charity BEAT, about 25 percent of those people diagnosed with an eating disorder are male.

Men can develop almost every single type of eating disorder a woman can get, and that includes anorexia. But men with anorexia may have different signs and symptoms than their female counterparts. These men may need gender-specific treatments in order to both understand and overcome their anorexia concerns.

Community Discussion Share Your Thoughts Here

Men also have eating disorders!

What has been your experience with eating disorders in males? What advice do you have to share on how we can positively impact boys/men suffering with eating disorders?

  • Carlat, D.J., Camargo. Review of Bulimia Nervosa in Males. American Journal of Psychiatry, 154, 1997.
  • American Psychological Association, 2001.
  • International Journal of Eating Disorders 2002 31: 300-308.
  • Eisenberg, D., Nicklett, E. J., Roeder, K., & Kirz, N., Eating disorder symptoms among college students: Prevalence, correlates, and treatment-seeking. Journal of American College Health, 59,2011, 700-707.
  • Strother, E., Lemberg, R., Stanford, S. C., & Turberville, D. . Eating Disorders in Men: Under diagnosed, Undertreated, and Misunderstood. Eating Disorders, 20, 346355. doi:10.1080/10640266.2012.715512
  • Weltzin T. Eating disorders in men: Update. Journal of Mens Health & Gender. 2005 2:186193.
  • Pritchard, M. . Does Self Esteem Moderate the Relation Between Gender and Weight Preoccupation in Undergraduates? Retrieved April 28, 2015, from context=psych_facpubs
  • Leit, R. A., Gray, J. J. and Pope, H. G. , The medias representation of the ideal male body: A cause for muscle dysmorphia?. Int. J. Eat. Disord., 31: 334338. doi: 10.1002/eat.10019
  • Blouin, A., & Goldfield, G. . Body image and steroid use in male bodybuilders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 159-165.
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    Hiding In Plain Sight

    Unlike with girls, who often become alarmingly skinny and visibly unhealthy, eating disorders in boys are harder to recognize because often nothing looks wrong on the outside. Eating disorders in boys are also easier to hide under the guise of what is considered acceptable, even laudable, male behavior.

    Exercising, even excessively, is socially valued in men, says Dr. Bunnell, who adds that overeating is also more socially condoned in men than in women. A group of 17-year-old boys eating multiple Big Macs, for example, might be considered amusing or even cool, he says. In fact, these behaviors may be masking an eating disorder, but we dont notice the psychological suffering piece.

    Body Image Issues In Men And Body / Muscle Dysmorphia

    Cultural messaging around the ideal masculine body shape often leads to the desire to pursue a muscular and lean physique. This can heighten body image concerns in males and may be a contributing factor to the development of an eating disorder.

    Nearly one third of Australian men are dissatisfied with their body . Research has shown that the number of men experiencing body image dissatisfaction has tripled from 15% to 45% in the last 25 years . Body dissatisfaction or negative body image can often result in overwhelming feelings of disappointment, shame and guilt. It can also lead to unhealthy behaviours such as fad dieting, disordered eating, eating disorders, exercise addiction and steroid abuse. A recent study in Australian secondary schools found that more than half of boys aged 14-16 were using muscle-building protein supplements .

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    How Are Men And Boys Affected

    Although eating disorders primarily affect women and girls, boys and men are also vulnerable. One in four preadolescent cases of anorexia occur in boys. Binge-eating disorder affects both females and males.

    Like females who have eating disorders, males with the illness have a warped sense of body image and often have muscle dysmorphia, a type of disorder that is characterized by an extreme concern with becoming more muscular. Some boys with the disorder want to lose weight, while others want to gain weight or bulk up. Boys who think they are too small are at a greater risk for using steroids or other dangerous drugs to increase muscle mass.

    Boys with eating disorders exhibit the same types of emotional, physical and behavioral signs and symptoms as girls, but for a variety of reasons, boys are less likely to be diagnosed with what is often considered a stereotypically female disorder.

    Characteristics And Treatment Of Eating Disorders

    TOP RATED Help for MEN with Eating Disorders  Anorexia ...

    What Are Eating Disorders?

    An eating disorder is marked by extremes. It is present when a person experiences severe disturbances in eating behavior, such as extreme reduction of food intake or extreme overeating, or feelings of extreme distress or concern about body weight or shape.

    A person with an eating disorder may have started out just eating smaller or larger amounts of food than usual, but at some point, the urge to eat less or more spirals out of control. Eating disorders are very complex, and despite scientific research to understand them, the biological, behavioral and social underpinnings of these illnesses remain elusive.

    The two main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. A third category is “eating disorders not otherwise specified ,” which includes several variations of eating disorders. Most of these disorders are similar to anorexia or bulimia but with slightly different characteristics. Binge-eating disorder, which has received increasing research and media attention in recent years, is one type of EDNOS.

    Eating Disorders Are Treatable Diseases

    Psychological and medicinal treatments are effective for many eating disorders. However, in more chronic cases, specific treatments have not yet been identified.

    Anorexia Nervosa

    Other symptoms may develop over time, including:

    • thinning of the bones
    • brittle hair and nails

    Treating anorexia involves three components:

    Bulimia Nervosa

    Other symptoms include:

    Binge-Eating Disorder


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    You Mean Men Have Eating Disorders Too

    You Mean Men Have Eating Disorders Too?


    One of the greatest myths in Eating Disorders is that only women are affected. This common misconception can lead to boys and men arriving to treatment later on in the development of the disorder.

    Historically, males with eating disorders have not received attention due to a variety of sociological and stigmatized reasons, including:

    • Lack of recognition of eating disorder symptoms by males and their family members
    • The stigma associated with males seeking help for mental illness, predominately from those disorders commonly associated with women
    • Lack of research into men with eating disorders
    • Strongly feminine branding of eating disorder treatment centers
    • Insufficient consideration to male behaviors in most eating disorder assessment measures
    • Gender biased Diagnostic criteria resulting in difficulties in diagnosis

    More recent trends indicate that anorexia, bulimia, and especially binge-eating disorder are on the rise in the male population. According to the National Eating Disorders Association , men represent one in three people struggling with an eating disorder and an estimated 10 million males will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

    Talking to someone you suspect of having an Eating Disorder

  • Gather information and educate yourself on eating disorders.
  • Avoid talking about food and weight.
  • Make mealtimes pleasant and enjoyable.
  • Mark Twain

    Eating Disorders In Men And Boys

    Eating disorders are serious but treatable mental and physical illnesses that are classified as a formal psychiatric condition and include anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and more. Historically, and socially, these disorders are most commonly thought of as affecting women. But research shows not only that they happen regardless of gender, but also that they are likely underrepresented, under-diagnosed, and under-treated in men.

    • The National Eating Disorders Association says 10 million males will be affected in their lifetimes.
    • Men make up 15% of cases including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder, recent research shows.
    • A recent study says 22% of young men turn to dangerous means to bulk up muscle with disordered eating behaviors.
    • Men with anorexia nervosa may face âharsher stigmatization from their peers or go undiagnosedâ because of the stereotype that anorexia nervosa is a âfemaleâ disorder, a recent study found.
    • A study this year highlights the stigma, shame, and isolation men often have that may impede and delay treatment.
    • And a study published in May found that risk assessment tools for eating disorders likely reinforce gender stereotypes by better reflecting female symptoms.

    “Because of stigma and stereotypes, males often have a harder time being diagnosed and receiving treatment for an eating disorder,â says Lauren Smolar, director of programs at the National Eating Disorders Association .

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    Eating Disorders In General

    I could not stoop to tie my shoes, so to speak, nor to attend to the little offices humanity requires without considerable pain and difficulty which only the corpulent can understand, I have been compelled to go downstairs slowly backward to save the jar of increased weight on the knee and ankle joints and have been obliged to puff and blow over every slight exertion, particularly that of going upstairs.

    He then went on to describe his recommended diet which was high in fruit, vegetables and protein, while low in potatoes and alcohol. In 1959, Albert Stunkard, an obesity specialist in the USA , described the first case of an overeating pattern which he named the Binge Eating Syndrome, in one of his male patients who was struggling to lose weight. This eating disturbance was characterised by dietary chaos, loss of control with eating, cravings for forbidden foods, disinhibited eating, guilty, self deprecating feelings and an intense desire for weight loss. Latterly renamed Binge Eating Disorder, the focus of research attention has focused largely on female sufferers. Eating Disorders leapt into clinical significance in the late 1970s with the diagnosis of bulimia nervosa for people who binge eat and purge. However it was not until the 1980s that we knew more about demographic patterns, clinical features, psychiatric co-morbidity, and treatment outcomes for all sufferers of eating disorders, identifying their prevalence in males.

    Why Are Men More Susceptible In College

    Eating Disorders: Why Are Girls More Affected?

    Male college students could be more vulnerable to eating disorders. Since college is a major life transition time , it certainly seems like a ripe environment for males who are vulnerable to developing eating

    • In college screening of males, 1 out of every 3 positive screenings for eating disorders were male4.

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    How Eating Disorders Affect Men

    Most of the men and boys who are struggling with an eating disorder are struggling silently: While aquarter of all people with eating disorders are men, they represent just one in twenty people receiving treatment.Psychologist Gia Marson, EdD, aneating disorder specialist who works with both men and women in her Los Angeles practice, says part of the issue isthat men have historically been left out of the broader conversation about body image, eating disorders, andrecovery. Our silence keeps men silent.

    In order to give men the opportunity to heal, Marson says, we have to first recognize that theyresuffering and why theyre suffering. That means fighting against the idea that eating disorders and dietculture are womens issues, as well as building emotional trust and communication in our boysand providing acompassionate landing pad when guys ask for help.

    If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, the first thing to know is that youre notalone. The second is that recovery is possible. For more information on recognizing, diagnosing, and treating eatingdisorders, see our Q& As with Marson on eating disordermyths and the link between eating disorders andtrauma, as well as our guide to eating disorderrecovery centers, our Q& A with Dr. Neeru Bakshi on orthorexia, andour research teams deep dive into anorexia nervosa.

    This Is What Its Like For Men With Eating Disorders

    A lot of these guys are just excessively, compulsively exercising. We sometimes have people going to the gym, I kid you not, for 10 hours a day.

    Kyle was trying to be honest about when his body image issues started, but he also wanted to be polite. My mom is in the room, so I dont want to say anything offensive, the 16-year-old California high schooler told me in an interview in January. But I dont know a single member of my family over 40 who hasnt been on Weight Watchers.

    Early on at about 12 years old Kyle became anxious about his weight. With this history of diabetes and hereditary obesity, I was pretty certain that I needed to eat healthy, he said. Thats when he started to jog every morning. For lunch, he had a salad without dressing every day.

    Kyle attributed some of his body insecurity to what he was reading and seeing in culture, notably in Harry Potter. Teenagers are supposed to shoot straight up, especially teenage boys. I mean, in Harry Potter, they talk about how without any work, Harry just shot up. And it made me realize a lot of my friends were that stereotypical teenage boy who had just grown 6 inches over the summer. And that wasnt happening with me, Kyle said. And that was very disappointing when I was getting messages from real life and the media that my body didn’t fit into any of those ideal paradigms.

    Left: Michael Keaton in Batman . Right: Ben Affleck in Justice League .

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