Men and Eating Disorders

Anorexia affects men tooIt is easy to forget that eating disorders is not a condition exclusive to females. Males are also affected, and although fewer men than women are diagnosed and treated for eating disorders, according to the largest UK eating disorder charity organization, B-EAT the number of male sufferers is on the rise.

Prevalence of male eating disorders

According to B-EAT approximately 10% of people with eating disorders are men. The fact that this number is on the increase highlights the importance of bringing awareness to the issue. In 2000 B-EAT published the results of a review of specialist health care provision in the UK, that indicate that gender and sexual orientation are significant factors in the prevalence of male eating disorders. Approximately 20% of men with eating disorders identify as gay, which is double the proportion of gay men in the UK. The pressure in the gay male community to be slim in order to get a partner appears to be high and a more significant factor than previously believed.

Contributing factors

While in our society there is generally less cultural pressure on men to be slim, men, like women, are susceptible to the notion of an ideal body type which is enforced by the media. Covert and overt societal messages that informs us about the ideal body size, shape, and weight are targeted towards both men and women, and men can also be inclined to internalize these ideals. On a daily basis we are all exposed to billboards of half naked men using their ripped six packs and buff upper bodies to sell everything from designer underwear to perfume. The message seems to be, ‘if you look like this, you’ll be attractive, worthy, and in control’. Such messages are highly suggestive and while we are able to intellectually distance ourselves from them, such messages work on a subliminal level that renders our conscious mind powerless.

However, holding the media and internal messages to blame does not suffice in explaining the etiology of eating disorders. Although media influences are unquestionably a contributing factor for many sufferers, and remain triggering for most people in recovery, the disorder usually develops in men, in response to a specific trigger. These triggers include, but are not limited to peer pressure and a desire to avoid bullying or teasing for being overweight since childhood. Studies also indicate that certain athletic activities appear to put males at risk for developing eating disorders. Therefore body builders, runners, swimmers, gymnasts, and dancers are at greater risk primarily because of the weight restrictions necessitated by their sports.

The clinical presentation of eating disorders is similar for men and women, and more information on the signs and symptoms of Anorexia, Bulimia and Compulsive Overeating can be found on our website. It is believed that a large number of men suffer in silence as coming forward and speaking about an eating disorder wrongly believe by many to be a disorder exclusive to women, can be daunting. In cases where GP’s fail to recognize symptoms and make prompt referrals to eating disorder specialists the disorder can increase in severity making treatment more difficult. Rarely does a person suffering from an eating disorder tick all the boxes and fall neatly into one category. Regardless, because eating disorders are egosyntonic, in other words a serious mental illness that makes the sufferer blind to the severity of their problem, the sufferer is often not able to make the decision to seek treatment without the care and support of loved ones.

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