June is Men’s Mental Health Month.
Eating disorders are often perceived as a disorder that only affects women; however, that could not be farther from the truth. Of the approximate 30 million people in the United States that struggle with an eating disorder, more than 10 million of them are men. Like women, the disorders in men begin with a distorted body image, pressure from peers, family, or coaches, and an obsession with being thin. Eating disorders stem from a skewed and unsatisfied perception of one’s body size and shape.
The three most common types of eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. On average, .9% of women and .3% of men struggle with Anorexia, 1.5% of women and .5% of men struggle with Bulimia, and 3.5% of women and 2% of men struggle with Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
Although there are many men affected by eating disorders, it is clear that the majority of the people we know to be affected are women. This may be due to societal pressures and a systemic predisposition to increased self-criticism. The stigma of eating disorders as a woman’s issue may also have reduced the number of men who come forward about having one themselves. Therefore, many more men may have an eating disorder but either do not realize it or will refuse to get help when/if they do realize something is wrong. A man may be more likely to deny that he is living with an eating disorder, he may deny it due to the societal stigma against it.
These disorders present themselves very similarly in men as they do in women. Someone with an eating disorder will likely have an unrealistic ideal of what they want to look like and a distorted image of the way that they actually look. Most people with an eating disorder have a preoccupation with food. They may also be obsessed with weighing themselves. The major difference between men and women when it comes to eating disorders is that, while many women strive to become more thin, many men strive to become more muscular.
Anorexia is the most fatal of all mental illnesses(NIMH). A man with Anorexia will be underweight with an intense fear of gaining weight. In order to lose more weight and keep from gaining any more, he will fast and restrict his diet to an extreme level. Often, he will exercise compulsively, doing both cardio and weight training. He may become depressed, irritable, isolated, and have low self-esteem. This disorder will continue to impact him by causing insomnia, lower testosterone levels and sex drive, fatigue, weakening muscles and bones, and hair loss. Ultimately, this disorder will impact his heart; thus the reason that Anorexia is so fatal.
Bulimia is characterized by binge eating and purging by way of vomiting, abuse of laxatives or diuretics, or excessive exercising. A man with Bulimia is obsessed with not gaining weight and will therefore compensate for the food that he has eaten by using one of the purging methods. He will have many of the same emotional characteristics as someone with Anorexia. He will feel a strong need to be in control and have an uncompromising thought process. His weight will fluctuate and he will begin to experience many different gastrointestinal issues. Some of the issues he may experience are a loss of dental enamel, bloating, constipation, and possible tears or ruptures along the gastric tract.
Binge Eating Disorder
Lastly, BED is characterized by an individual losing control and eating an excessive amount of food in a short period of time. He will often eat past saturation until his is uncomfortably full. After a man binges, he will often feel ashamed or a strong sense of guilt. He may eat in secret, in order to help reduce the guilt. This disorder may often go unnoticed because men often see binge eating as a masculine trait. Negative emotions, such as anxiety or anger, may precede the binge. Men with BED will often feel dissatisfied with their body and will be overweight or obese. The obesity that often accompanies BED may lead to chronic diseases, such as type II diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, and high cholesterol.
As previously mentioned, most eating disorders come with a set of triggers. One of note is the unique trigger of male eating disorders associated with athletics. 13.5% of athletes have an eating disorder. For men, this comes from a need for perfection, depression, and low self-esteem. The difference between athletes with eating disorders and others is that athletes will strive to become more muscular, rather than simply becoming thinner. For boys, “bulking up” is a major part of athletic training and, if it becomes an obsession, it can lead to disordered eating.
Much like Barbie has been seen as the “ideal” woman, physically, action figures and other toys for boys are very muscular and strong. This leads the boys playing with them to believe that this is the way they should look. While women in magazines are thin and have a “perfect” body, the men shown are lean, fit, and buff. Many times it is difficult for one to be satisfied with the look of their body when they are constantly being shown images of people with perceived “perfect” bodies.
- Eating disorder statistics & research. (2016). Retrieved from Eating Disorder Help website: http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/statistics-studies
McConville, S. (2014, June 6). Male athletes and anorexia. Retrieved from Eating Disorder Hope website: http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/anorexia/male-athletes
- Research on males and eating disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Eating Disorders Association website: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/research-males-and-eating-disorders
- Understanding eating disorders. (2008). National Institutes of Health Medline Plus, 3(Spring), 17-19. Retrieved from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/spring08/articles/spring08pg17-19.html