A recent article in Gentlemen’s Quarterly, “20% of ANOREXICS are Men,” presents the unique challenges that men face when suffering and recovering from anorexia. One study actually suggests that 30% of anorexics are men. Regardless, male anorexia’s prevalence is clearly growing, and Gentlemen’s Quarterly’s Special Report featuring this article shows the willingness of the magazine to raise awareness about manorexia within the larger population. As male anorexia increases, the treatment of eating disorders must change in order to fulfill the needs of this population.
“Manorexia” differs from female anorexia in several ways. First, these men are more likely to have been overweight or obese before the onset of their anorexia. Additionally, University of Iowa’s Arnold Anders says male anorexics tend to fit a personality type of being “anxious, obsessive, persevering, and perfectionist.” They often already attempted to control anxiety through other unhealthy coping mechanisms (i.e., drugs or self-mutilation) before the anorexia presents itself, generally during adolescence. Additionally, competing in athletics that stress weight or speed, non-heteronormative sexual identities, or exposure to familial eating disorders increases male adolescents’ risk of anorexia.
Once the anorexia takes hold, men often exercise in excess to increase weight loss. As they lose body mass, their bodies stop producing hormones. Without the necessary hormones, men lose their libido and become “numb,” characterized by a decreased emotional capacity to connect to others or fully feel. The individual loses sight of realistic perceptions as a belief of his own truth becomes more important and reliable than the truth that everyone else tells them. This deepens and perpetuates the disease. One man who spoke about his anorexia in an interview for Gentlemen’s Quarterly, Will, said, “I compared my insides with people’s outsides, you know? And the eating disorder became a numbing-out mechanism, a way to distract myself from how lonely and empty I felt.”
The rise in eating disorders in men can be linked to several factors. First, the images of fit or too even emaciated actors and musicians that are all too easy to compile on the internet motivate and fuel anorexia. The fat-phobia in our culture further motivates unhealthy eating behaviors. Furthermore, while men often avoid diagnosis, the medical community’s increased awareness of men’s eating disorders leads to more diagnoses.
Once diagnosed, getting treatment is far more difficult for men than women. Many treatment centers do not find it appropriate to treat both sexes, although no studies show treatment facilities for women only are more effective than those treating males and females. Even when they do let men in, some men have found that being the only male makes it difficult to relate to other clients and materials aimed entirely at women. Furthermore, some issues like trauma—which may be applicable—or menstruation stopping make the man feel different. Due to the likely lower diagnoses rates and decreased opportunities for adequate treatment, men often are active in their anorexia longer than women.
Mark Warren, the founder of Cleveland Center for Eating Disorders (CCED), estimates that 75% of men with eating disorders do not get into treatment. Anorexics face the worst mortality rates out of all of those with mental illness: 5-10%. Of those who die, about half are suicides and the other half die as a physical complication of their starvation. Clearly, the treatment of anorexia and eating disorders as whole needs to change in order to fulfill the needs of a more diverse population of clients.
Penn, Nathaniel. “20% of ANOREXICS are Men.” GQ September` 2012: 288-294. Magazine Article.
By Emily F.