The majority of people with a moderate understanding of eating disorders consider it a problem faced mostly by women. This stereotype paints an incomplete picture of the issue. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, about one in three people with an eating disorder in 2020 are male.
Despite men making up a third of the population, they have been underrepresented in research and the understanding offered by society. Unfortunately, this had led to an unwillingness to seek treatment, in part due to the stigma surrounding male eating disorders. Additionally, it might not occur to loved ones or medical professionals that an eating disorder could be linked to other health problems when the person in question is male.
Until recently, it wasn’t even possible to officially diagnose a male with anorexia. In previous versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), loss of a menstrual period was necessary for someone to be diagnosed with anorexia. The DSM-V updated this, but attitudes about male eating disorders still have some catching up to do.
What are the Top 3 Eating Disorders?
Men are affected by all three of the main eating disorders that inflict women. These include:
People with anorexia or anorexia nervous severely restrict caloric intake, may workout excessively to burn calories, and have a fear of weight gain. Some people with anorexia purge or use laxatives to control their caloric intake.
People with bulimia consume large amounts of food in a single sitting and force themselves to purge by vomiting or excessively exercising. Some use laxatives or diuretics to prevent weight gain. Many also have anorexic behaviors between binges and severely restrict their calories.
Binge Eating Disorder
People with binge eating disorder consume excessive amounts of food in one sitting, but unlike bulimics or anorexics, they do not purge. They feel a lack of control over eating and eat when they are not hungry or already full. They tend to eat alone or sneak food. Many people with binge eating disorder often go on diets, but many never lose weight.
Risks of Developing an Eating Disorder
Males face many of the same risks as females when it comes to developing an eating disorder. Media pressure and participating in activities, especially sports that emphasize weight and appearance are often linked to eating disorders. Some males with eating disorders have a history of sexual abuse or trauma, and many previously struggled with their weight. Although more straight men develop eating disorders, homosexual men seem to be at greater risk.
Despite many of the risk factors being the same for males as they are for females when it comes to developing an eating disorder, male and female eating disorders present differently.
Co-occurring conditions such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse are more prevalent in males with eating disorders than in females. There is also a greater risk of suicidal tendencies for males. Males also tend to use excessive exercise to control their weight instead of purging.
The lead-up to the eating disorder also tends to be different between males and females. Most males with eating disorders have a history of being overweight and are focused on achieving a muscular physique.
Treatment for Eating Disorders in Males
Treatment options are evolving for males with eating disorders. Although a lot of research focuses on females, more and more people in the medical profession have realized how important it is to offer treatment tailored to males. In the past, treatment centers excluded males and branding targeting people with eating disorders was extremely feminine.
Research suggests that males respond positively to many of the same treatment options as females. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has proven especially effective. Family-based treatment (FBT) is also helpful when the person with the eating disorder is an adolescent.
According to Douglas Bunnell, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and expert on eating disorders, “We know a lot more about boys and eating disorders compared to, say, two or three years ago. We just think there are a lot more boys and men out there who feel inhibited or ashamed about coming forward. It’s critical for parents, pediatricians, and school counselors to develop awareness of eating disorders being as much of as a potential issue for boys as for girls. We have treatments and we want boys to be sure they know they can have access to them.”