This blog post is an article originally written for the Sunday Business Post on behalf of ReachOut.com

It is a common misperception that eating disorders only affect women. The reality is that eating disorders are serious conditions that can affect both men and women, at any age and from any background.

Eating disorders can present in different ways in males and there are certain risk factors to be aware of that are more male-oriented; however, in terms of treatment and recovery, anyone experiencing an eating disorder needs help and support to embark on, and continue with, the journey of recovery.

Men and Eating Disorders

It is estimated that of eating disorders cases, up to 25% tend to be men. Additionally, 40% of those men suffered with binge eating disorder. There has been a 67% increase in the number of men treated for eating disorders in the UK in the last five years.

There are a certain parts of eating disorders in men that distinguish them from eating disorders in women. For example, men who develop anorexia are also more likely than females to also have developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Furthermore, men who develop Bulimia use over exercising, or anabolic steroids along with purging, while women tend to use laxatives or diuretics along with purging.

Risk Factors

There are many reasons why people develop eating disorders and often the combination of events, feelings and pressures is what leaves a person feeling unable to cope. For men, specific risk factors include:

  • Being overweight for their height and age as children, and/or being teased or bullied about their weight.
  • A history of dieting, which is one of the most powerful eating disorder triggers for both men and women.
  • Becoming excessively concerned with fitness, which can lead to over-exercising.
  • Becoming pre-occupied with developing a particular physique (and this may begin to take over from concerns about their health)
  • Participation in a sport that demands thinness, for example runners and jockeys.
  • A job or profession that demands thinness, such as male models, actors and entertainers

Muscle Dysmorphia

In men who use exercise as a way to control their eating disorder, some may experience severe distress due to a form of body image disturbance known as Muscle Dysmorphia. A person with this disorder may become obsessed with the belief that they are not muscular enough, despite the fact that they may in fact be above average in terms of muscle mass. Often the person will engage in intensive over-exercising and other harmful behaviours in an effort to develop their physique.
Muscle dysmorphia is a very specific type of body dysmorphic disorder and should be addressed with the support of a medical professional.

Getting Help

Due to the misconception that eating disorders are a ‘female issue’ can make it harder for a man to acknowledge to himself or others that there is a problem. This can mean that a man is less likely to seek support and help for an eating disorder or related issue. The first step to being able to encourage and facilitate men seeking help and support, is to understand that an eating disorder is, in fact a serious mental health issue. It develops for numerous reasons, and is not just about food, weight, or appearance. The earlier treatment is sought, the earlier a person can move towards recovery. All eating disorders involve a myriad of components that therapy can help them address.

Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.

Eating Disorders Among Males
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