Eating disorders have long been associated with women and girls. However, these harmful conditions can affect people of any gender, age and walk of life. Eating disorders may be more common among females, but they also affect many men and boys. Knowing the signs of a possible issue can help identify and treat an eating disorder.
Like women, males can also suffer from anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating. Societal pressure to fit a certain ideal body image standard affects everyone. For men, it could mean feeling as though one must have a fit, muscular body or a thinner body.
A study published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2014 sought to determine whether males would be at higher risk for obesity, depression and substance abuse when they also exhibited psychiatric symptoms of having an eating disorder. After questioning respondents from 1999-2011, the study results indicated that it is fairly common for as many as 18 percent of young men and adolescent boys to have "high concerns with muscularity." This also meant that these respondents were at a greater risk for depression and to engage in harmful behaviors including using alcohol or drugs.
For many of these males, the goal is to be perceived as having more muscle mass. As noted in an article from The Atlantic covering this study, media pressure on males has increased, with depictions of men with chiseled physiques becoming more commonplace. Children's toys have also followed suit, with action figures providing an example to young boys of an unrealistic physical ideal. As a result, boys may perceive themselves as being too small, and at some point may take muscle enhancing supplements or steroids.
Because eating disorders are not as commonly associated with males, it is important to be aware of the signs that one of these conditions could be present, to be able to obtain proper treatment. As the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) points out, it is less likely for a doctor to diagnose a male patient with an eating disorder. According to the organization, "1 in 10 cases of eating disorders involve males," with boys accounting for one out of every four children being referred for treatment for anorexia.
What are some of the signs of an eating disorder?
Anorexia: Anorexia involves reducing one's caloric intake. Some of the indications that a person may have this disorder can include engaging in food rituals, exercising compulsively, exhibiting a preoccupation with food and/or bodybuilding and a perception of being fat although the individual is likely very thin. The affected person may have low self esteem or become depressed, irritable or socially isolated. Some of the physical symptoms of this disorder include a low body weight, thinning hair, reduced testosterone, a lack of energy and muscle weakness.
Bulimia: A person experiencing bulimia may binge eat and then engage in purging behaviors, which can include taking laxatives or vomiting, or engaging in compulsive exercise to compensate for calories ingested. The person may show a preoccupation with food and seem disgusted by their own body. They additionally may be depressed, socially isolated and exhibit controlling tendencies and weight fluctuations.
These are just some of the signs of two of the most common eating disorders. If you or someone you love is experiencing an eating disorder, proper diagnosis and treatment can help.
Founded in 1989 by Dr. M.K. (Khal) El-Yousef, the highly experienced and capable team of doctors, nurses and psychiatrists at Fairwinds Treatment Center work with patients to create an individualized plan for treatment including nutritional guidance as well as emotional and psychological support. The staff at Fairwinds also includes Dr. Pauline Powers, an internationally renowned and accredited doctor in the field of eating disorder treatment. Our dual diagnosis approach helps identify the issues at the root cause of the problem, allowing you or your loved one to experience recovery and healing from male eating disorders.