Eating Disorders and Men: Let’s Break the Stigma

June is Men’s Health Month. During this time, many health organizations focus on raising awareness of common men’s health issues – particularly heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. However, very few organizations talk about eating disorders as a men’s health concern. Unfortunately, stereotypes and misconceptions about eating disorders tend to obscure the facts about eating disorders among men.

Here are just a few of the facts:

  • 25% of those suffering from anorexia or bulimia are men (1)
  • Anorexia is diagnosed in boys as young as eight years old
  • 40% of those with binge-eating disorders are male (2)
  • Male eating disorders are not a “gay men’s issue” – heterosexual men experience eating disorders with as much prevalence as men in the LGBTQ community (3)
  • Less than 1% of all eating disorder research focuses specifically on men (4)

Due to the lack of research around men and eating disorders, we also must take these facts as just a baseline understanding. Furthermore, many of these statistics view gender in a binary way and may not take trans men into consideration. Gender isn’t binary, and as a result, even the limited statistics available offer a myopic view of eating disorders among cisgender and trans men, as well as those who identify as agender, genderfluid or non-binary. In all likelihood, the prevalence of eating disorders among men is higher, and we are just beginning to scratch the surface of the issue.

For someone suffering from an eating disorder, acknowledging the eating disorder can be tremendously difficult and seeking treatment can be even more daunting. For men suffering from eating disorders, these challenges are exacerbated by other layers of stigma and stereotype. Because society so often believes that eating disorders primarily impact young, affluent, white women, men who need eating disorder treatment often experience additional barriers to diagnosis and treatment. (5)

If you think you or a man in your life might be suffering from an eating disorder, keep your eyes open for signs and symptoms. While the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder are the same regardless of gender, you might need to look at these signs and symptoms from a different lens when considering men:

  • Severe restriction of calories and fluids
  • Following a severely limited or overly regimented diet
  • Excessive or rapid fluctuations in weight
  • Use of laxatives, diuretics or growth hormones
  • Vomiting, or binging and purging
  • Eating very rapidly, or eating in secret
  • Hiding food consumption habits
  • Compulsive, intense or excessive exercise
  • Exercising to the point of injury or pain
  • Constant thoughts or conversation about weight and/or food
  • Specific rituals around eating, weight, exercise or food preparation
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Negative talk about body image, or a distorted body image
  • Extraordinarily expensive food purchases

Keep in mind that eating disorder behaviors, signs and symptoms take different forms over the course of the illness. So, the behaviors you noticed several months ago may be different than the behaviors you’re noticing today. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these signs and symptoms, it may be time to explore the possibility of treatment.

For men, eating disorder treatment facilities can often feel very alienating, especially if the vast majority of patients are women. An effective eating disorder treatment environment must provide a safe, inclusive space for all types of patients, regardless of race, gender orientation, or socioeconomic background. At Reasons, we focus on providing gender-affirming treatment for all of our patients. Whether in group therapy or in individual therapy, our approach puts the unique needs of the patient at the center of treatment. We believe that this highly personalized approach helps ensure that all of our patients – regardless of gender – feel safe and welcome.

Eating disorders do not discriminate on gender, race or socioeconomics. While every person’s journey toward recovery is unique, nobody should go through that journey alone. Whether you’re a man struggling with some of these signs and symptoms, or you see these signs and symptoms in a loved one, please reach out to a professional to seek input. Do not let stereotypes or stigmas stand in the way of life-saving treatment, regardless of gender. Let’s do our part to raise awareness of men on the path to eating disorder recovery and welcome them with open arms. We are all in this together.

1. Hudson, Hiripi, Pope, & Kessler, 2007

2. https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/treatment-for-eating-disorders/special-issues/men

3. https://www.edcatalogue.com/facts-males-eating-disorders/

4. https://www.verywellmind.com/male-eating-disorders-4140606

5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3479631/

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