An estimated 10 million boys, teens, and men will face a significant eating disorder during their lifetime. Yet thanks to the longstanding myth that eating issues like anorexia, bulimia, and binging are mostly “female problems,” male eating disorders are often overlooked or misunderstood.
Now there’s hope through research and growing awareness as men with this serious problem (including celebrities like actor Dennis Quaid) break the silence. A new picture is emerging with facts about the symptoms, treatment, and dangers of male eating disorders.
Eating disorders are just as serious for men
Men with eating disorders may be coping with hidden depression or sexual abuse and face nutritional deficiencies that cause health issues like brittle bones, irregular heartbeats, and dental problems. Like women, they may also be abusing alcohol or drugs—but some are more likely to turn to dangerous muscle-building drugs called anabolic steroids. For both sexes, anorexia (refusing to maintain a healthy weight) and bulimia (cycles of binging and purging) can be life-threatening.
Boys, teens, and men face unique pressures
Media images of lean, muscular men—in movies, magazines, and online—prompt many boys, teens, and men to feel they need to slim down and bulk up. Playing sports with weight restrictions, such as wrestling, gymnastics, track and field, swimming, and rowing can also foster an unhealthy male body image, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
Men’s eating disorders look different
While 10 times more women than men are reported to have anorexia or bulimia, rates are similar for binge-eating disorder. Men who binge may be twice as likely as women to also abuse alcohol or drugs. Meanwhile, men may also develop an eating disorder called “muscle dysmorphia.” Men with this disorder may be overly focused on building and maintaining big muscles—spending lots of time exercising. Some experts warn that overuse of over-the-counter workout supplements that promise to burn fat and build muscle is an emerging eating disorder particularly for men. One danger: These fitness supplements may lead to the use of anabolic steroids.
If you or a loved one has signs of an eating disorder, talk with your doctor. Men may face a double stigma that can get in the way—feeling that eating disorders are a women’s problem and feeling shame about having a psychological issue to deal with. Look for treatment options that fit your needs. All-male treatment programs may be especially effective.