Eating Disorders in Men

How Many Men Are Affected?

Men are at risk for eating disorders too.
Men are at risk for eating disorders too. Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

When many people think about eating disorders, they think about women. And while it is true that more women than men suffer from eating disorders, males account for one in 10 new cases of eating disorders.

How Many Men Are Affected?

A large U.S. study of adolescents shows that significant numbers of young males experience problem weight control behavior:

  • 2 percent to 3 percent of males said they diet all the time or more than 10 times a year
  • 5 percent to 14 percent of males reported deliberately vomiting after eating
  • 12 percent to 21 percent had a history of binge eating

A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found many psychological similarities between men and women with eating disorders, with both groups experiencing similar symptoms.

How Gender Bias Hurts Diagnosis

Research shows that many doctors fail to recognize male eating disorders, despite identical behaviors. The prevalence of this gender bias means that diagnosing either bulimia or anorexia in men is less likely. Instead, men are more likely to be diagnosed as suffering from depression with associated appetite changes than they are to receive a primary diagnosis of an eating disorder.

Eating Disorders and Occupation

There are a few occupations in which the demand for low body weights can lead to anorexia or bulimia. Horse racing, modeling, dancing, distance running and driving are some jobs that men have reported as having led to an eating disorder.

Social Acceptance and Eating Disorders

In part, the hidden problem of eating disorders in men is cultural. Women tend to discuss emotions and psychological problems more often than men, which is why anorexia and bulimia are perceived as a woman's problems. Discussions about weight loss are not taboo in women's magazines, and in general, discussions about being thin tend to focus on women.

However, men experience many of the same societal pressures to have the "perfect body," it is just not as often discussed or publicized.

Lack of Awareness

The lack of visibility of eating disorders in the male world has had a number of consequences: Men do not discuss eating disorders; men tend not to share the information with other men because the subject is a female issue; and men's beauty has to do with body mass, muscle bulge and definition, not weight loss. These male expectations, which society has defined as powerful and masculine, results in men not seeking help because of their reluctance to admit they have a "female" problem.

Getting Help

If you are experiencing problems with weight control you are not alone. Get help by contacting your family doctor, a psychologist, mental health center or a doctor specializing in eating disorders. With help, you can improve your body image and heal from your disorder.

Sources:

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. (n.d.). Males & Eating Disorders. Retrieved February 14, 2016.

Woodside et al, D. Blake. "Comparisons of Men with Full or Partial Eating Disorders, Men Without Eating Disorders, and Women with Eating Disorders in the Community." American Journal of Psychiatry (2001): 570.

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