Men and Eating Disorders

Man with eating disorder holds a skateboard over his shoulders

Women are more commonly affected by eating disorders (ED) than men, but millions of American males still grapple with body image issues, low self-esteem, and disordered eating patterns. In the United States, roughly 20 million women and 10 million men will struggle with a clinically diagnosable eating disorder at one point in their lives. Unfortunately, society has essentially labeled eating disorders as a ‘feminine issue’, leading to a gross underreporting of ED in males. Men have been stigmatized from coming forward with such issues, thus prevalence figures remain somewhat elusive. Much of the research that has been conducted and many of the assessment tests that have been completed were geared exclusively towards females – however, more males are coming forward now than ever before. This could either be because more males are struggling with disordered eating patterns, or because society as a whole is becoming more aware of the gender-neutral nature of this devastating mental disorder. Either way, ample help is available to those in need.

Eating Disorders Amongst Males

While men do struggle with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, the most common disordered eating pattern amongst men is binge eating disorder (BED). The DSM-IV reported that males have a lifetime prevalence of .3% for anorexia, .5% for bulimia, and 2% for binge eating disorder. This means that 36% of all BED sufferers are male. Those who are afflicted with BED consume abnormally large amounts of food, and feel as if they cannot control how much they eat. Oftentimes, they will continue to eat to the point of physical sickness. Most of us will overeat on occasion – we might indulge too much at a buffet or go back for thirds on Thanksgiving, trading a contented full for a bloated and painful hour or two. Those who struggle with BED, however, will feel completely out of control during a binge episode. They will continue to eat despite being uncomfortably full, and will often feel immense amounts of shame and guilt following an episode.

Breaking the Stigma

Men who struggle with BED and other eating disorders will likely feel out of control in other areas of their lives, and turn to food as a means of comfort. Men with eating disorders also commonly suffer from co-morbid conditions, such as depression, anxiety, substance dependency, and excessive exercise. In cases such as these, the afflicted male will typically seek help for the co-morbid disorder – even if it is significantly less severe than the ED. Men tend to face a double stigma, being labeled as feminine or homosexual for struggling with an ED in the first place, and being stigmatized for seeking psychological help. Many men believe (because they are raised to believe) that masculinity is measured by independence, and an innate ability to resolve all personal problems without seeking outside help. In order for men with ED to receive the treatment they need, both of these societal stigmas must be broken. In order for these stigmas to be broken, the cultural definition of masculinity must begin to shift. In recent times, there has been a major movement in regards to self-love and positive body image amongst females. However, the issue of body images issues amongst men is almost always overlooked.

Muscularity and Masculinity

According to a recent study, most males want to appear lean and muscular – a build that many men believe to be the ideal male body type. This standard has increased dramatically from the 1970s to the present day. Sexual objectification of the male body and the internalization of mainstream media portrayals of men increase the widespread drive for muscularity. The desire for musculature amongst American men is not limited to one specific age group – 68% of college-aged men believe they could stand to bulk up, and 90% of teenaged boys believe that they have too little muscle. Muscle dysmorphia, which is actually a subtype of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), is exceedingly common amongst men with eating disorders – and especially amongst male bodybuilders. The drive to gain more muscle becomes an overwhelming mental obsession, and corresponding compulsions include steroid use, excessive use of supplements, and abnormal eating patterns.

We at Next Chapter have extensive experience working with men who struggle with disordered eating patterns, low self-esteem, and body image issues. We understand that most of these issues stem from deeper emotional issues, such as childhood trauma, insecure attachment, and underlying mental health problems. For more information on our program of recovery, please feel free to contact us today. We are dedicated to breaking the stigma surrounding men and mental health, and doing all that we can to provide top-quality care to those who need it.