Understanding and Overcoming Eating Disorders in Men

What are eating disorders? What are the causes of eating disorders in men? Read on to learn more about eating disorders and how they affect men.

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Eating disorders are severe and complex illnesses that cause an individual to have an unhealthy eating relationship. These individuals are often fixated on their body and weight, often overweight or underweight. Eating disorders are mental health conditions that negatively impact the individual’s physical and psychological well-being.

Although this disorder is common among young girls and teenage women, eating disorders in men are not excluded. It can occur in individuals of any age, regardless of their gender.

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How Common Are Eating Disorders in Men?

There is a general misconception that eating disorders are a challenge only women face. This is a dangerous stigma, as it prevents many individuals from pursuing the help they need. For many years, there has been an increase in anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia in the male population. Young boys within the age bracket of eight and above are now diagnosed with anorexia. Also, 40% of individuals with binge-eating disorders are male.1

Generally, 25% of individuals diagnosed with eating disorders are males. Over 33% of males use unhealthy eating habits to attempt to change their body mass. Eating disorders often impact the lives of at least 10 million men at some point. The hospitalization of males with eating disorders increased by 53% from 1999 to 2009.1

Mortality Rate

Studies show an increased mortality rate in men with an eating disorder compared to females. Most men have a general misconception about their body image or weight and often prefer to be muscular and lean. This misconception brings about unhealthy eating habits to attain their “dream” body.
Men are also often exposed to unrealistic masculine body images on social media. Exposure brings about a drive for the male body, leading to body dissatisfaction. Men of different age groups often desire increased musculature, leading to muscle dysmorphia.

What Can Eating Disorders Lead To?

Males with 25% of the normal body weight often see themselves as underweight. Eating disorders in men often lead to obsession over their body weight. Hence, 90% of teenage boys undergo rigorous exercise to build muscle mass or bulk up.

These boys tend to develop unhealthy eating patterns while increasing their steroids and supplements intake. Most males competing in sports tend to be conscious of their weight, diet, and appearance. However, some athletes get carried away and become unhealthily conscious and, as a result, develop eating disorders.

Potential Causes of Eating Disorders in Men

There needs to be more research to fully understand and know the causes of eating disorders in men. The following are some of the several causes of eating disorders in men:

  • Trauma: Trauma from teasing and bullying about the individual’s appearance occurred during childhood can lead to lowered self-esteem and mental health challenges. Due to the trauma, some males often worry about their weight, height, and overall appearance. This trauma often makes them develop unhealthy eating habits. 
  • Media Influence: Media influence is also one of the causes of eating disorders in men. The media often portrays a certain body type as “ideal” for a man. Any body shape that differs from the one displayed on social media is often seen as a deviation.
  • Fear: Some men tend to develop unhealthy eating habits due to the fear of having medical issues such as diabetes and heart disease.
  • Sports: In sports such as running, gymnastics, and wrestling, the men undergo rigorous exercises and diet to keep fit. There can also be pressure in certain sports, such as wrestling, to achieve certain weight-goals.
  • Heightened Physique Focus: Men tend to develop eating disorders when focusing on increasing or reducing their body weight. 
  • Sexual-Related Challenges: Some men often face sexual-related issues due to their appearance. It often leads to these individuals drastically increasing or reducing their weights. 
  • Muscle Dysmorphia: Muscle dysmorphia makes the males feel like they are not muscular enough and causes eating disorders. 

Symptoms of Eating Disorders in Men

The following are some of the symptoms of eating disorders in men (that can also be applied to any gender):
  • Digestive issues
  • Yellow skin
  • Cold tolerance
  • Dental changes
  • Lethargic
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of hair
  • Slow healing when wounded.
  • Fainting

Stigma Surrounding Eating Disorders in Males

A public stigma presents the idea of a male having eating disorders as a non-issue or not “masculine,” hence why many men do not come forward and seek proper treatment. This stigma stands as a barrier to encouraging men to seek help from eating disorder centers, leading to unwarranted shame or embarrassment.

Understanding the Dangers of Stigma

Strong evidence also shows that men experiencing eating disorders tend to engage in excessive exercise to bulk up.2
Research shows that there is a continued stigma toward men that are experiencing eating disorders. This stigmatization of men leads to underreporting; causing many experts to hypothesize that the statistics related to eating disorders in men are not always accurate.2

Muscle Dysmorphia

According to an article, one in every ten men training in gyms often experience muscle dysmorphia. This dysmorphia is common in men. These men often perceive themselves as needing to be more muscular or lean, regardless of appearance.

Effect of Stigma Surrounding Eating Disorders on Mental Health

Stigma against men with eating disorders often leads to serious mental health conditions. It causes these individuals to have some behavioral and physical changes. Some of these mental health conditions are:3
  • Anxiety: Societal stigma towards men with eating disorders often leads to anxiety disorders. These men tend to have a persistent and intense fear that affects their daily activities. According to research, up to 65% of individuals experiencing eating disorders tend to have an anxiety disorder. 
  • Depression: It is a common mental health condition that can develop from eating disorders. Most individuals with eating disorders often develop depression because they feel irritable and sad. Depression often makes people have difficulty caring for themselves and feeding, leading to malnutrition.
  • Substance Use Disorder: Eating disorders also lead to substance abuse disorders. Some individuals with eating disorders often use substance abuse as a coping mechanism. Most of these individuals often feel ashamed and isolated hence the need for a coping mechanism.4

Ways for Men to Heal from Eating Disorders

The following are some of the ways men can heal from eating disorders:
  • Professional medical care
  • Nutrition counseling to stabilize weights.
  • Creating interpersonal relationships
  • Psychological therapy
  • Psychiatric assessment and treatment
  • Mindfulness

Overcome Your Eating Disorder at Alternative Options

An untreated eating disorder can lead to several health problems and death. Studies show a high death rate in individuals with eating disorders. People experiencing this disorder often have malnutrition and other mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

If you know a friend or family experiencing an eating disorder, contact Alternative Options for support. Alternative Options have treatment options for eating disorders and other mental health conditions. You can begin your healing journey with the proper treatment at Alternative Options!