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Why Eating Disorders in Men Get Overlooked

man sitting on couch by himself

Eating disorders are most commonly associated with girls and women. It makes sense because about 66 percent of those suffering from conditions like bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating are female. But think about it. That also means 1 out of 3 people struggling with eating disorders are males. That adds up to 10 million American boys and men reporting an eating disorder in their lifetime. The keyword is “reporting.”

It might be shame or stigma. It could be a lack of awareness. But males are less likely to report it if they are showing signs of disordered eating. This, in turn, leads to them being less likely to get the treatment they need. 

Why Do Men and Boys Get an Eating Disorder?

Many of the reasons are similar to those that push females into disordered eating, e.g., societal standards, bullying, distorted body image, etc. But, these definable causes can manifest quite differently for males. In a macho-centric culture, boys and men may feel pressured to be muscular and masculine. They dream of looking like male heroes, so they obsess over exercise, supplements, dieting, etc.

Translation: It’s more common for the people in their life to praise them for “grinding” than worry about their behavior. Potential eating disorders are unnoticed, and the negative mental and physical outcomes are left unchecked. This makes it essential that we learn to identify eating disorders — especially in boys. 

Possible Signs of an Eating Disorder in Boys

It can start with behavioral choices like doing an extreme amount of exercise. This can involve an obsessive focus on one’s workout routine. In addition, a male with an eating disorder is prone to always checking himself in the mirror and/or weighing himself. As for symptoms more specifically related to eating, here are some red flags to consider:

  • Adherence to very strict eating rituals (this could include avoiding particular food groups, like carbs)
  • Eating more food than usual
  • Making many bathroom trips during meals
  • Chronic dieting and counting calories 
  • Cutting food into small pieces before eating it
  • Fixation on food labels and nutrition information 
  • Staying away from social events that involve eating
man sitting on couch by himself

How Can an Eating Disorder Negatively Affect a Man or Boy?

Regardless of your sex, an eating disorder can be quite dangerous. Male or female, people dealing with disordered eating at a higher risk of mental health conditions like:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression 
  • Personality disorders
  • Substance abuse

For men and boys, in particular, there are some possible outcomes to take quite seriously. Those with anorexia nervosa tend toward reduced levels of testosterone and vitamin D. Meanwhile, males who go overboard with exercise suffer more bodily injuries.

When steroids are used to aid the unhealthy quest for a superhero body artificially, side effects can include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Skin problems 
  • Constipation
  • Testicular atrophy and low sperm count
  • Angry outbursts called “’roid rage”
  • Poor liver functioning

Most alarmingly, men with eating disorders die from the disorder more often than women do. This is partly due to:

  • Men lose weight and body fat more rapidly than women
  • Depression can lead to suicidal thoughts, and, in general, men are more likely to die from suicide
  • Men typically get diagnosed with eating disorders later because they do not report symptoms, and their doctors may downplay the likelihood of such conditions for males

Change is Needed and Starts With You

Obviously, change is desperately needed. More awareness is necessary, and less stigma is required. This journey can start with you. If you feel you may be struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out for eating disorder therapy. There’s no shame or guilt in asking for help. You can save yourself and, perhaps, other men in your life.

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Green Heart Therapy provides in-person psychotherapy for adults, teens, and children in Los Angeles and online therapy across California.