There is a particular myth about eating disorders: that they only affect women and teenage girls. This could not be further from the truth, as eating disorders in men can also manifest, and be just as damaging to physical and mental well-being. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), men account for about one in three people struggling with an eating disorder. While men do experience eating disorders at a lower rate than women, the belief that they aren't at risk can be a life-threatening mistake.
Finding treatment is important for men and boys suffering from an eating disorder, but stigma, denial, lack of knowledge and other factors can compound the issue. Here's what you need to know about eating disorders in men and boys.
Facts about eating disorders in men
There are many social and cultural variables that affect the recognition and treatment of eating disorders in men. An NPR report from 2019 featured how athletes often face particular pressures and demands related to their weight or body. It referenced a study that 48% of college male athletes were at risk of developing bulimia, compared to 58% of female athletes. Such a number may come as a surprise, but in reality, NEDA says men represent:
- 36% of those with a binge-eating disorder.
- 25% of those suffering from anorexia nervosa.
- 25% of those suffering from bulimia nervosa.
These shares of the affected population may surprise some. The misconception that eating disorders do not affect men is a massive barrier to seeking treatment. This has negative impacts in both the short and long term, according to a study on eating disorders in U.K. men published by BMJ. In it, researchers found: "The widespread perception of eating disorders as uniquely or predominantly a female problem led to an initial failure by young men to recognize their behaviors as symptoms of an ED. Many presented late in their illness trajectory when ED behaviors and symptoms were entrenched, and some felt that opportunities to recognize their illness had been missed because of others' lack of awareness of EDs in men."
NEDA also noted that eating disorders had the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and that men and boys with an eating disorder are at an even higher risk of dying from the disorder.
Signs and symptoms
Knowing all this, it's crucial to be able to identify eating disorders in men. Such early recognition can help direct them toward educational materials, resources and treatment options — which is lacking in many respects around the world. Some of the things to watch for include:
- Anxiety or depression: Eating disorders and mental health are deeply connected. Men who suffer from an eating disorder are almost always likely to also suffer from at least one mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression.
- Excessive dieting or exercise: Workout culture can be intimidating for males, especially athletes or those looking to get in shape. Body dysmorphia can result from extreme image pressures, and excessive dieting or exercise may point to an unhealthy mindset.
If you or someone you know could use help in learning about eating disorders in men, or finding treatment, contact Fairwinds Treatment Centers today.