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Do men have eating disorders?

man with eating disorder

Myth: Only females have eating disorders.

Fact: 10 million men in the US have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

Despite the stereotype, one in three individuals who struggle with an eating disorder is male.

What is the cause of eating disorders in men?

As with women, men also suffer from a negative body image. Numerous studies have found that men and boys are equally dissatisfied with their weight and physique and seeking a body that is leaner and more muscular. In fact, just over 25% of normal weight males see themselves as underweight and over 90% of teenage boys exercise with the goal of adding muscle or “bulking up.” Society places a strong emphasis on boys to be physically strong, often before their bodies can support the ideal body image they perceive.  Also, the competition among adolescent boys to be sexually attractive to girls leaves them forming a lasting impression of their bodies during puberty.

College life can also be a risk factor for men who are susceptible to developing an eating disorder. While body image remains a risk factor, additional circumstances that can contribute to an eating disorder. High-risk athletic groups such as gymnastics, wrestling, jockeys, bodybuilders, and running can create physical and psychological pressures for a male student. Additionally, substance use is also a contributing factor for an eating disorder in college men, and it is more socially acceptable to struggle with a substance problem than with an eating disorder. Male students who struggle with an eating disorder are more likely to struggle with a co-occurring mental health condition such as a substance use disorder. Studies show that an estimated 57% of males with binge eating disorder also struggle with some form of substance abuse compared to 28% of females with binge eating disorder.

What are the symptoms of an eating disorder?

Assessment tools are geared with a language towards females, often leaving eating disorders in males to be overlooked by pediatricians and parents. Eating disorders in men and adolescent boys don’t typically present with classic symptoms such as restricting calories, binging, or purging, but instead are generally characterized more by:

  • Eating too much protein
  • Restricting carbs and fats
  • Periods of over-consumption and calorie-cutting to build muscle
  • Excessive steroid or supplement use to bulk up
  • Compulsively exercise

Another sign of an eating disorder may be muscle dysmorphia, a sub type of body dysmorphic disorder, characterized by an individual’s obsession with being adequately muscular. Compulsions include spending countless hours in the gym, spending excessive amounts of money on supplements, dieting, fasting, and using steroids.

How do I talk to my loved one about an eating disorder?

Due to the stigma that surrounds males and eating disorders, they are less likely to seek treatment, but by empowering men to express their feelings can help them take the first step toward recovery.

  • Communicate your concerns and ask them how they feel.  Encourage him to use “I” statements, and then follow up with more open-ended questions.
  • Let them cry. Validate his feelings by encouraging him to be open and free with his emotions.
  • Avoid placing shame, blame or guilt
  • Avoid giving simple solutions, but instead, help them to explore their concerns with a health professional who is knowledgeable in eating disorders

Toledo Center Offers Hope for Adult and Adolescent Males

The challenges men face should be approached in a manner that addresses their distinct needs.  At Toledo Center for Eating Disorders, we understand what is needed to men and adolescent boys find freedom from their eating disorder.

Our Adolescent Residential Program (ARP) provides clients a safe and comfortable environment with 24-hour care. Adolescents ages 10-17 receive medical and psychiatric supervision, utilizing evidence-based interventions that help them process the underlying issues related to their eating disorder. As clients participate in individual, group, and family therapy, they learn meal planning, symptom reduction/elimination skills, and relapse prevention.

Our Adult Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) offers clients a comprehensive treatment program using evidence-based therapy balanced with activities aimed at enhancing mindfulness. PHP provides clients a structured environment with peer support 7 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Toledo Center for Eating Disorders provides each client an environment for restoring their physical and psychological health. We continuously recognize the progress each individual makes and help them transition to a life free from their eating disorder.

If you or your loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, call us today or complete our contact form for more information. We are here to help you understand that you are not alone, and that recovery is possible.

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