There is growing awareness in the eating disorder treatment industry about the men who struggle with anorexia and bulimia.
The stereotypical image of an eating disorder is a teenage girl or young woman who starves herself in effort to become ultra-thin. While it’s true that the majority of people with eating disorders are women, a growing number of men are now reported to be suffering from this affliction. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that at least one million men in the U.S. are thought to have an eating disorder. Most of them are suffering in silence, with only about 10 percent seeking treatment.
According to Dr. Roberto Olivardia of Harvard Medical School, men with eating disorders often have a history of being overweight and are striving to attain a muscular and athletic ideal of masculinity. Competing in sports that demand a certain body type or weight, such as gymnastics, wrestling and diving, also can promote eating disorders. . Although some men with eating disorders suffer from anorexia nervosa, men are more likely to have symptoms associated with bulimia or binge eating.
The number of men with eating disorders has been on the rise over the past decade. Many experts attribute this in large part to men’s desire to achieve perfection by changing their bodies. Popular culture presents lean and well-sculpted male bodies as the ideal, while at the same time sending out the message that if you don’t like your body, you can change it. Like women with eating disorders, men can be affected by body dissatisfaction. In addition to restricting their food intake, bingeing and purging, men with eating disorders frequently over-exercise and may use steroids or over-the-counter supplements in an effort to lose weight.
The health problems caused by eating disorders can be compounded by the use of diet supplements. These substances are not under FDA jurisdiction and may be associated with side effects that include dehydration, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and diarrhea. According to The Atlantic, extreme cases of supplement overuse have been reported, with one young man requiring a kidney transplant after overuse of creatine and protein supplements. Anyone who is considering taking diet or nutrition supplements should first consult their primary physician.
Most of the underlying psychological causes of eating disorders are the same for both men and women. Relationship issues, family problems, depression, low self-esteem and a variety of other factors can lead to development of an eating disorder. There are also certain personality traits such as perfectionism, an orientation towards high achievement, anxiety and impulsivity that can increase the risk of eating disorders. According to Dr. Olivardia, depression, ADHD and OCD are additional risk factors.
Women with eating disorders are often too embarrassed or ashamed to seek help because of the stigma associate with the condition. This is also true for men, who may also be challenged when looking for treatment programs that address the unique aspects of male eating disorders. Some men are afraid to admit they have an eating disorder because they perceive it as a female problem.
Men who wonder if they have an eating disorder should look at their attitudes about food, weight, exercise and body image. If their quality of life is suffering due to obsessive behavior related to food, treatment should be considered.