Men and Eating Disorders: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options
When we think of eating disorders, we typically think of them as a female problem. However, men suffer from these illnesses, too. In fact, according to the National Association for Males with Eating Disorders, men and boys account for at least 25% of all cases of bulimia, anorexia and binge-eating disorder. Keep reading to learn more about eating disorders among men, including information on causes, symptoms and available treatment options.
Why Men Develop Eating Disorders
In both men and women, eating disorders typically stem from a dissatisfaction with one’s appearance. Whether a man thinks he’s too fat or too thin, an unhealthy body image often results in poor self-esteem, which can manifest in the form of an obsession with food and/or exercise. In turn, an obsession with food and appearance can lead to eating disorders, body dysmorphia and other mental health issues.
Eating disorders often differ among men and women in one crucial way: while women typically develop eating disorders in an effort to lose weight, many men use binge-eating and extreme exercise as a means of gaining weight and building muscle. This is because of societal pressures placed on young men to be strong, muscular and athletic, whereas young women are pressured to be thin. Binge-eating disorder is especially common among young men, and is associated with complications like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and more.
A number of factors can put boys and young men at risk for developing an eating disorder, a few of which are listed below:
- Genetics. Men with close relatives who suffer from eating disorders are more likely to develop a disorder, themselves.
- Mental illness. Depression, anxiety, PTSD and obsessive-compulsive disorder can all contribute to eating disorders.
- Athletics. Athletes are under enormous pressure to stay in shape; sometimes, this pressure can result in the development of an eating disorder.
- Perfectionism. Unhealthy or impossible standards, specially concerning appearance, can contribute to poor body image and the development of an eating disorder.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of eating disorders can vary, but often include the following:
- Strange mealtime rituals. These can include eating alone, eating only certain foods, eating at very specific times of day, etc.
- Binge-eating. Eating to the point of uncomfortable fullness and a lack of control concerning portion sizes are symptomatic of binge-eating disorder.
- Purging. Purging (throwing up) is indicative of bulimia, and is also an effect of binge-eating disorder.
- Obsessive thoughts. Men with eating disorders are often plagued with obsessive thoughts about food, calories, appearance, weight, etc.
- Emotional eating. Some individuals with eating disorders use food as a comfort measure. For example, binge-eaters often eat to numb the symptoms of depression, guilt, anxiety, etc.
- Weight fluctuations. Eating disorders often result in drastic weight loss or weight gain.
While men are certainly not immune to eating disorders and other body-image issues, they are less likely than women to seek professional help. However, failure to seek treatment for an eating disorder can result in severe complications, some of which are life-threatening. Thankfully, eating disorder treatment for men is available, and typically includes methods like the following:
- Counseling. Talk therapy can help men explore their issues with food and body image, as well as formulate coping strategies in the interest of health and well-being. Plus, counseling can uncover underlying illnesses like depression and anxiety, which may contribute to eating disorders and unhealthy body image.
- Group therapy. In group therapy, men suffering from eating disorders can share their experiences, give and receive support, and hold each other accountable to a healthy lifestyle.
- Nutrition therapy. Learning how to nourish the body is a crucial component of eating disorder treatment. By learning how to plan healthy, nutrient-rich meals, men with eating disorders can significantly enhance their odds of recovery and enjoy a positive relationship with food and nutrition.
Eating disorders are not gender-specific issues. Thankfully, though, effective treatment is available, no matter your sex or gender. If you or someone you know is suffering the effects of an eating disorder, get help today, and get the ball rolling on a healthier, happier future.