Males and Eating Disorders
For a long time, eating disorders have been understood largely as female disorders. Most of the research on this subject is conducted on females and most of the people in treatment are women. This creates an impression eating disorders affect women more predominantly than men. However, just because we understand better how women are impacted by eating disorders does not mean that men do not suffer. More than ever, we are starting to understand that men are afflicted, as well as the similarities and differences between how eating disorders show up in their lives.
Men often are reluctant to report eating disorders because of the disorder’s association and understanding through the feminine lens. Not only does the association of being a female disorder threaten emasculation, but it can also create confusion, misunderstanding, and misdiagnosis because the presentation of the disorder in the man may look and feel very different for him.
Men report anorexia and bulimia about a third less than their female counterparts. Where the prevalence rates for these two disorders for women are .9% for anorexia and 1.5% for bulimia, for men they are .3% and .5% respectively. However, binge eating disorder, the most recent eating disorder added to the DSM-V, has prevalence rates that are reported equally between genders. Perhaps the more recent understanding of these disorders has helped us to understand better through a gender-neutral lens, or perhaps there is less stigma for men around the symptoms of this disorder that include more overeating than undereating.
In recent years, increased numbers of male athletes have come forward about their experience with eating disorders. They have helped to understand how the motivation and manifestation of these disorders can vary between men and women. As this information becomes more common, it is likely that male prevalence rates will increase because we can better diagnose the illness in men. The male experience of eating disorders often surrounds body and intake manipulation for improved athletic performance and sports that rely on weight classes.
Similar to women, aesthetics also play a large role, but the focus is more so on muscularity and leanness. In Western cultures, the male idealized body has grown significantly more extreme and difficult to obtain without manipulation. Men see actors, sports stars, and popular male influencers with large, defined muscles, and minimal body fat. It is as common for men’s media images to be digitally altered to enhance these characteristics. Thus setting an unrealistic standard for male bodies in a similar way to women’s experiences.
Men are more likely to be secretive in their eating disorder behaviors as symptoms may feel less socially accepted. Men may not even realize that they are engaging in disordered eating until much later into the illness. For this reason, when men do seek treatment they are often sicker and further into the disorder than women are when they seek treatment. It is important to know that eating disorders respond to treatment, regardless of if you are a man or a woman. One of the first ways to realize a disordered relationship with intake and body size/shape is to consider how much “brain space” is consumed by these two things. If your decisions, planning and thoughts are largely about food and changing or controlling your body, consider reaching out to a professional to learn more.
At Whole Hive Counseling we have over 30 years of treating eating disorders and have worked with men, women and children of all ages. Call 918-324-6120 or email [email protected] to learn more.