Pop culture and media messages have led some to believe eating disorders are a female issue, but the reality is that about one in three people struggling with an eating disorder is male and some eating disorders are nearly as common among men as they are among women. Binge eating, purging, laxative abuse, and fasting for weight loss are among the top male disordered eating behaviors, and what drives them is not too dissimilar from what drives women to disordered eating behaviors.
Males have been told by mass media that the ideal body type is lean and muscular, that successful, happy men must have a certain physique. In addition, men have been sexually objectified just like women, which can lead some to obsess over muscularity and body weight, otherwise known as muscle dysmorphia. Compulsions include devoting hours to the gym, spending excessive amounts of money on powders and supplements, unusual eating patterns, or using drugs or steroids to achieve the ideal.
In the United States alone, eating disorders will affect 10 million males at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, cultural bias and stigma contribute to men being less likely to seek treatment for their eating disorder.
“The cultural stereotype that eating disorders only affect women is a dangerous one,” says Elyse Parcher, MS, NCC, LPC, primary eating disorder therapist at Recovery Centers of America. “Men may be apprehensive to seek treatment for fear of how they will be perceived or being the only male in the room, and while we’re making strides to educate the public that this is a gender-neutral, life-threatening disease, men continue to struggle.”
In fact, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and studies suggest that the risk of mortality for males with eating disorders is higher than it is for females.
Men face a double stigma according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), for having “a disorder characterized as feminine or gay and for seeking psychological help.” In addition, eating disorder assessment tests may have language geared toward women and girls.
“I agree with NEDA that a gender-sensitive approach with recognition of different needs and dynamics for males is critical for effective treatment,” says Parcher. “We work hard to create an environment conducive to recovery for men and women alike, being sensitive to the different needs and expectations of both.”
Along with the shame that accompanies many eating disorders, men with eating disorders also often suffer from comorbid conditions such as substance abuse, anxiety, and depression, making treatment all the more important.
Parcher encourages early intervention for anyone struggling with an eating disorder and recommends that everyone be aware of eating disorder warning signs in order to help their loved ones.
“Thankfully, studies show that once men seek treatment, they show similar success as women and can live a healthy life. We just need to continue efforts to destigmatize this disease so that men and women alike seek appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Recovery is possible!”
If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, call 844-852-8222.