Despite the common misconception, many men struggle with body image issues which in some cases can lead to damaging eating disorders. A number of factors can influence this problem, such as societal norms, advertising and career choice to name a few. The increasing awareness of male eating disorders is welcome progress.
Only too often society and the media portray eating disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia as illnesses suffered by women alone. There are so many myths around this challenging addiction that the real causes and issues are often missed, misleading media coverage and confusing everyone about its true source. But one fact is quite clear – it is becoming very much a male problem.
Why are eating disorders seen more in men?
Just as fashion trends perceived in the media are often a fundamental trigger for bulimia and anorexia, the rise of Eating Disorders in the male population can also be partly traced back to changes in social development. In the last twenty or thirty years we have seen an increasing pressure on young men to conform to the new modern model of a man being physically attractive – the tight posterior –the six pack etc.
However, while these attitudes are likely to be on the increase, the fact remains that men’s overall reasons for becoming trapped in a compulsive eating disorderare more likely to be due to health reasons or to do with needs pertaining to a specific sport. (i.e. boxing wrestling or being a jockey).
Statistics from studies also show that men who access eating disorder treatmenthave a history of obesity or being bullied at school. The latter as in both genders, is a clear reminder that eating problems are intrinsically linked to emotional issues.
Why are men not accessing eating disorder treatment?
Men may be suffering from the illness but do not consider there is a problem because of the way that the media talks about it. Men are rarely mentioned (except for the odd celebrity –and even then it tends to be linked to his eccentricities – such as with Elton John). A compulsive eating disorder is not just about the refusal to eat or the gorge purge cycle, it is also about the way that food subjects start to control your life. Overeating and vomiting are a clear sign of a problem just as spending each second of each hour calorie counting and dealing with the resultant anxiety. Not only are men not recognising the problem they are also at a disadvantage if they do not access eating disorder treatmentin its early stages.
Other reasons this addiction goes unnoticed are again directly linked to social norms. If men are dangerously thin they are more likely to be just considered “skinny guys”. For the same reason society is more accepting of obesity in men than in women. Men who recognise they have a problem may feel ashamed about coming forward because they feel there is a stigma attached. Hopefully as society recognises this as a problem that affects both sexes eating disorder treatment will be accessed by anyone who needs it.
Nick Cassells 2011