Eating Disorders include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. Eating disorders are serious emotional and physical problems that can have life-threatening consequences. Eating disorders do not discriminate on the basis of gender. Men can and do develop eating disorders.
The most common element surround all eating disorders, including eating disorders in males, is the inherent presence of a low self esteem. It is estimated that of the 8 million people in the United States suffering from eating disorders, 10% of these are men. According to a Harvard study, out of 3,000 people with anorexia and bulimia, 25 percent were men.
Eating Disorder Symptoms
The diagnostic criteria for anorexia, for instance, focus on women, which is evident in its hallmark symptoms of amenorrhea and fear of fatness. Though some men do exhibit a fear of fat, others typically want to be muscular, obsess over attaining a low body fat percentage and focus their efforts on excelling at a sport. Instead of engaging in traditional compensatory behaviors like vomiting or abusing laxatives, men instead are more likely to exercise compulsively.
Eating Disorders In Men
For decades, women have been inundated with unrealistic, thin images in magazines, movies, ads and other media outlets. Now, men are also feeling the pressure for physical perfection, surrounded by unattainable images of muscular physiques, six-pack abs, building biceps and lean bodies. Men might diet for different reasons than women. They may die to prevent weight gain, excel in sports or for their profession.
Eating disorders are more prevalent in gay and bisexual men than in heterosexual men. Some have pointed to the increased emphasis on physical attractiveness in gay communities as a contributing factor, whereas others view participation in these communities as protection against eating disorders.
Barriers to Eating Disorder Treatment
Stigma: Since eating disorders are known as a woman’s disease, men might be embarrassed to seek treatment, worried that they’d be seen as less of a man.
Services: Because male eating disorders have only recently received attention, many treatment centers don’t have separate services that treat men.
Prevention and Early Intervention
Strategies for Prevention and Early Intervention:
- Learn about eating disorders and know the warning signs. Become aware of your community resources. Consider implementing an eating Concerns Support Group in a school, hospital, or community setting to provide interested young men with an opportunity to learn more about eating disorders and to receive support. Encourage young men to seek professional help if necessary
- Understand that athletic activities or professionals that necessitate weight restrictions put males at risk for developing eating disorders. Male wrestlers, for example, present with a higher rate of eating disorders than the general male population. Coaches need to be aware of and disallow any excessive weight control or body building measures employed by their young male athletes
- Talk with young men about the ways in which cultural attitudes regarding ideal male body shape, masculinity, and sexuality are shaped by the media. Assist young men in expanding their idea of “masculinity” to include such characteristics of caring, nurturing and cooperation
- Never emphasize body size of shape as an indication of a young man’s worth or identity as a man. Value the person on the “inside” and help him to establish a sense of control in his life through self-knowledge and expression rather than trying to obtain control through dieting or other eating disordered behaviors
- Confront others who tease men who do not meet traditional cultural expectations for masculinity. Confront anyone who tries to motivate or “toughen up” young men by verbally attacking their masculinity
- Listen carefully to a young man’s thoughts and feelings, take his pain seriously, and allow him to become who he is
- Validate a young man’s strivings for independence and encourage him to develop all aspects of his personality; not only those that family and/or culture find acceptable. Respect a person’s need to space, privacy, and boundaries
- Understand the crucial role of the father and other male influences in the prevention of eating disorders. Find ways to connect young men with healthy male role models