You Mean Men Have Eating Disorders Too?
By Patrick Kelly, BANA Communications and Office Administrator
One of the greatest myths in Eating Disorders is that only women are affected. This common misconception can lead to boys and men arriving to treatment later on in the development of the disorder.
Historically, males with eating disorders have not received attention due to a variety of sociological and stigmatized reasons, including:
- Lack of recognition of eating disorder symptoms by males and their family members
- The stigma associated with males seeking help for mental illness, predominately from those disorders commonly associated with women
- Lack of research into men with eating disorders
- Strongly feminine branding of eating disorder treatment centers (flowers in branding, no/limited male images on marketing materials, etc.)
- Insufficient consideration to male behaviors in most eating disorder assessment measures
- Gender biased Diagnostic criteria resulting in difficulties in diagnosis’
More recent trends indicate that anorexia, bulimia, and especially binge-eating disorder are on the rise in the male population. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), men represent one in three people struggling with an eating disorder – and an estimated 10 million males will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their lives.
In most cases, eating disorders symptoms – those associated with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder – vary little between men and women. Just like women, men presenting with eating disorders can also run the risk of experiencing depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.
Reality Check: Males with ED’s are at a higher risk of death. This is primarily because males are typically underdiagnosed or diagnosed much later in the course of the disorder. The hard facts are that men represent 25% of individuals with anorexia nervosa and 40% of people diagnosed with binge eating disorder.
Influencing factors can start at a young age and in the most innocent of ways. Not unlike the Barbie type icons that have traditionally influenced girls; consider too the design of the average action figure. The exaggerated muscular physique, chest , arms and shoulders can lead to early comparisons in young boys, and can establish a negative baseline for unrealistic ideation.
Add to that the traditional stressors that come along with environments like competitive sport, male dominated work places and historic perception of stoic role models. Consider too that support systems for men are often limited and restrictive in terms of developing interpersonal skills for communication, emotional processing…even opening up to friends, co-workers or teammates can be difficult – even traumatizing. Men/boys can often feel pressure to suffer in silence. In these cases the unaddressed feelings of loneliness and hopelessness may heighten; fueling the eating disorder.
Talking to someone you suspect of having an Eating Disorder
If you suspect someone you know or care about may have an eating disorder, it’s important to share that you have concern about their health in a non-judgemental, supportive manner.
Discuss the behaviors you’ve witnessed and why their actions and behaviours worry you. Try to incorporate the positive traits (non-physical) about them as well. Make sure to discuss what they would like or are willing to do in terms of support and wellness; and offer to assist them in finding help. In addition to the tips below, BANA has dedicated a section of our online resources to assisting friends and family members with Eating Disorders (www. bana.ca/resources/).
It is often difficult to understand why someone is experiencing an eating disorder or has weight preoccupation. Many people believe that eating disorders are only about food and weight, but in reality, these are just the symptoms/coping strategies to deal with the underlying problems.. There are things you can do to prepared to support someone with an ED.
- Gather information and educate yourself on eating disorders.
- Avoid talking about food and weight.
- Assure them by saying that they are not alone; that you care about them, that you want to help in any way that you can without infringing on their rights, and that you respect their need for privacy.
- Encourage them to seek help from a therapist, and get medical help.
- Never try to force them to eat or pressure them to make changes.
- Do not comment on weight or appearances because comments may be taken the wrong way.
- Do not blame the individual, and do not get angry, recovery takes time, be patient.
- Make mealtimes pleasant and enjoyable.
- Be a friend and actively listen by reflecting back their needs and concerns.
- Do not take on the role of a therapist.
It’s important to remember that when you first approach the person you suspect has an eating disorder, they may react with anger or denial. Be supportive by letting them know that you will be there for them if they need to talk.
In cases where the person has been severely restricting food, or is binging/purging several times a day, and the individual’s health is in extreme danger, you could contact their doctor or a clinical therapist at BANA. In a case of extreme emergency bring the person directly to a hospital.
No matter how much you want to help, remember that only they can make the decision to get help. It is their responsibility to continue with their own process of recovery. Forcing them to recover can only hinder their recovery process.
An remember, someone with an eating disorder has the best chance for recovery when they are surrounded by people who are loving and supportive. Recovery takes time and is hard work, but with treatment, which could include individual therapy, support groups, medical and nutritional counselling; eating disorders can be managed.
As we encourage men and boys to come forward, together we can set aside the stereotypes so that males can ask for help and get the treatment they deserve.
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
― Mark Twain