Eating disorders in men

It’s a common misperception that eating disorders only affect women. The reality is that eating disorders are serious conditions that can affect both men and women, guys and girls, at any age and from any background.

When trying to understand and/or support a man with an eating disorder it can be helpful to be mindful that eating disorders can present in different ways in men and that there are certain risk factors to be aware of that are more “male-oriented”.

However, in terms of treatment and recovery, anyone experiencing an eating disorder needs help and support to embark on, and continue with, the journey of recovery.

Men and eating disorders

It’s estimated that 10% of cases of anorexia and bulimia are male, though more recent studies suggest this figure could be as high as 25%.

Cases of binge eating disorder are much more equally divided, with up to 50% of cases occurring in men.
 There has been a 67% increase in the number of men treated for eating disorders in the UK in the last five years.

Risk factors for men

There are many reasons why people develop eating disorders and often the combination of events, feelings and pressures is what leaves a person feeling unable to cope. 

For men, specific risk factors include:

  • Being overweight for their height and age as children, and/or being teased or bullied about their weight
  • A history of dieting is one of the most powerful eating disorder triggers for both men and women
  • Being excessively concerned with fitness, which in turn can lead to over-exercising
  • Men may become pre-occupied with developing a particular physique (and this may begin to take over from concerns about their health)
  • Participation in a sport that demands thinness. Runners and jockeys may be at particular risk
  • A job or profession that demands thinness. Male models, actors and entertainers are at higher risk than the general population.

Some men may experience severe distress due to a form of body image disturbance known as Muscle Dysmorphia. A person with this disorder may become obsessed with the belief that they are not muscular enough, despite the fact that they may in fact be above average in terms of muscle mass.

Often the person will engage in intensive over-exercising and other harmful behaviours in an effort to develop their physique.
Muscle dysmorphia is a very specific type of body dysmorphic disorder and should be addressed with the support of a medical professional.

Getting help

The misconception that eating disorders are a “women’s issue” can sometimes make it harder for a man to acknowledge to himself or others that there is a problem of this nature. This in turn can mean that a man is less likely to seek support and help for an eating disorder or related issue.

Combating this stigma with an understanding that an eating disorder is a serious mental health problem.

It develops for numerous reasons and is not just about food, weight and appearance. Understanding and accepting this, is the first step to being able to encourage and facilitate a man seeking out the help and support he needs to let this disorder go.

Addressing all aspects

It’s important to remember, the earlier treatment is sought, the earlier a person may move towards recovery.
 All eating disorders involve physical, psychological, behavioural and emotional aspects and as such for treatment to be effective for both men and women, all of these need to be addressed in some way. Check out face-to-face help for information on the different types of support and how to find the right one for you.

If you’re concerned about taking the first step towards recovery, the non-judgmental support provided by Bodywhys services could be a helpful starting point. Check out www.bodywhys.ie for information on the issues, how to deal with them and details on their email service, helpline and support groups.

Acknowledgements

This article has been produced in collaboration with Bodywhys.

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