It is a misconception that eating disorders only affect women. Eating disorders have historically been unrecognized and under-diagnosed in males. However, understanding eating disorders in males can help break the stigma often faced by many who seek help and treatment.
A greater number of men will hide their eating disorders from others in fear of being ridiculed and misunderstood. Some may not even recognize that they have a problem with food and eating until they find themselves physically ill. Accordingly, eating disorders can present differently in males than females. It can be helpful to keep this in mind if you are concerned about a loved one or seeking advice for yourself.
Specific risk factors in male disordered eating.
Eating disorders are multifaceted and there is rarely one reason for either gender to develop disordered eating. Some specific risk factors relating to male eating disorders include:
- Excessive focus on fitness
- Childhood trauma
- Sexual abuse
- Sports that focus on physical appearance or specific weight categories
- An intense need for approval
- Difficulty managing emotions
- History of obesity or gaining weight in childhood
- History of bullying or rejection regarding body size
In recent years eating disorders have increased in males including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. Men are also affected by muscle-related disorders such as muscle dysmorphia.
What an eating disorder looks like.
Christopher is a 20-year-old male who is recovering from anorexia. Having had weight issues as a child, he undertook a healthy eating and exercise plan and lost weight over a number of years.
“I didn’t realize I had an eating disorder until it was pointed out to me. I have been vegan since my early teens for animal welfare reasons, but that wasn’t the issue. The problem was me using food and restriction to manage my emotions. I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing until I got into recovery. What I thought was a healthy lifestyle got out of control.”
There were signs of unhealthy eating behavior in his early teens. Christoper told me “I hated being a bigger kid and did make myself sick sometimes in my early teens.” He managed to lose lots of weight and felt good about himself. It was then that he started to feel food guilt and skipped meals. “Feeling hungry gave me a sense of achievement. Slowly I started to create food rules for myself and eventually, the restriction became extreme.”
Physically Christopher looked very thin, was cold all the time, started losing feeling in his toes and I was experiencing extremely low blood sugar levels. “Even with all those symptoms, I remained in total denial about my illness,” he says. “Anorexia is very complicated and had me in its grips before I realized.”
The recovery process.
Christopher finally found his way to recovery after his mother approached him with concerns. Christophers’ advice about seeking help is…
“yes reach out, but make sure that it’s to someone who understands. Many people blow off eating disorders, particularly in relation to men. That rejection can be detrimental to your recovery and to your life. Recovery is really difficult and it is a daily challenge and internal struggle. It is a very serious illness that needs professional care. You need to deal with the underlying emotional distress. Even on days where your body is fighting against you and your illness is screaming in your head you must want recovery.”
It is important to be mindful that recovery from an eating disorder is multifaced and individual. Eating disorders are classified as a formal psychiatric illness and have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric condition. A tailored approach to treatment is vital for a successful recovery. Understanding eating disorders in males can help with a successful approach and recovery.
You will find a list of resources and phone numbers across the world here at worldeatingdisordersday.org.