Men With Eating Disorders: When you think about eating disorders, do you picture men or women? Generally, anorexia and bulimia are associated with women. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. (self-identified as the ANAD), only 10% to 15% of all people with eating disorders are men. However, in the United States, up to twenty-four million people suffer from an eating disorder, so even just 10% is still over two million men.
As defined by the ANAD, anorexia nervosa, the most well known eating disorder, is “characterized by emaciation, a relentless pursuit of thinness, and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight, a distortion of body image and intense fear of gaining weight, a lack of menstruation among girls and women, and extremely disturbed eating behavior.”
Weight loss is achieved, or at least attempted, through dieting, excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting (generally categorized as bulimia), or misusing laxatives, diet pills, diuretics, or enemas.
ANAD suggests 10 warning signs for anorexia:
- Deliberate self-starvation with weight loss
- Intense, persistent fear of gaining weight
- Refusal to eat or highly restrictive eating
- Continuous dieting
- Excessive facial/body hair because of inadequate protein in the diet
- Compulsive exercise
- Abnormal weight loss
- Sensitivity to cold
- Absent or irregular menstruation
- Hair loss
Bulimia is the repetitive overeating then purging because of guilt from lack of control over one’s food consumption.
ANAD identifies 7 symtpoms of bulimia:
- Preoccupation with food
- Binge eating, usually in secret
- Vomiting after bingeing
- Abuse of laxatives, diuretics, or diet pills
- Denial of hunger or use of drugs to induce vomiting
- Compulsive exercise
- Swollen salivary glands
- Broken blood vessels in the eyes
But what does this mean for men specifically?
Men with eating disorders provide unique problems, different issues than women struggling with eating disorders. A man is much less likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder until it is severely affecting his life. Along the same lines, men are much less likely to admit to having an eating disorder and seeking treatment. The stigma that only young white girls suffer from eating disorders keeps many men private about their issues with food and body image.
Even doctors are less likely to diagnose a male patient with an eating disorder than a female patient. Detection of an eating disorder in boys and young men is more delayed than that of girls and young women, meaning that the early signs of an eating disorder go unseen in males, allowing the illness to progress more frequently.
When discussing overeating as an eating disorder, men are rarely cited. It is assumed, and has become common place, that men eat a lot of food at one time, and at many times during a typical day. Male eating habits are rarely categorized, and consumption amounts are rarely observed or scrutinized. Sadly, many men do not feel comfortable seeking help because they feel it is a female disorder, and the disorder becomes worse and worse.
Eating Disorder Groups For Men:
There is a group called the National Association for Males with Eating Disorders, Inc. (N.A.M.E.D.) that specializes in the support and treatment of men with eating disorders. Specialists working with NAMED identify four reasons that men develop eating disorders that do not mutually apply to women:
- In avoidance of being teased for being overweight, when they had been teased in the past,
- In an effort to improve their performance in various sports,
- In an effort to avoid or counteract a genetic illness, such as heart disease of the men in generations before them, and
- To improve a relationship with a male partner in a same-sex partnership.
Based on the unique problems faced by men with eating disorders, treatment is most helpful when it is gender-specific. Group therapy has proven very effective for male eating disorder clients because a you-are-not-alone feeling is created.
Jared Friedman is the quality improvement manager at Sovereign Health Group.