Eating Recovery Center's Bonnie Brennan identifies 7 things to know about males and eating disorders.
1. Eating disorders aren’t just found in women.
The lifetime prevalence of eating disorders in the male population is around 25 percent for Anorexia and Bulimia and 36 percent for Binge Eating Disorder within the eating disorder populations (Hudson, 2007). In the United States, it is estimated that there are 10 million men that will experience an eating disorder at some point in their life (Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, & Hudson, 2011).
2. Males with eating disorders are diverse.
Males with eating disorders may be boys as young as 8 years old. Or, they may be men in their 50s and 60s. Males with eating disorders are husbands, fathers, college students, professionals and athletes. They come from a variety of socio-economic statuses and span across all races and sexual identities.
3. Many males struggle with body image issues.
For many men with eating disorders, the drive is to achieve a lean and muscular body. They may want six-pack abs or be obsessed with obtaining a body builder physique. There is also a large number of men and boys who strive for a wispy, “Peter Pan” type body, demonstrating extreme thinness.
4. Fitness and diet programs may trigger eating disorders in males (like they do with females).
As more men strive to achieve the perfect male body and eat “clean” and healthy, some are finding themselves triggered into eating disordered behaviors. Over-exercising, excessive use of supplements, purging and laxative use, steroids and restrictive diets are some of the ways that these men find their way into a full blown eating disorder.
5. Eating disorders can be fatal in men.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any other mental illness. There is some evidence to suggest that males with eating disorders may have a higher mortality rate than females. In addition, these males will also often have other co-occurring mental health struggles such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, substance use disorders and personality disorders.
6. Effective treatment is available for males with eating disorders.
Many males with eating disorders, and those who care for them, believe that there is no treatment available for men. They worry that they will be the only male amongst all females — or that eating disorder treatment centers won’t admit them if they are male. However, today, there are many eating disorder treatment programs that treat males and, more than ever before, men are finding that they are not alone in being a male accessing care. At Eating Recovery Center, we have several men in treatment at any given time.
7. We need to talk about eating disorders in males.
Men with eating disorders face a double stigma of feeling that they are alone and that eating disorders are a woman’s disease. While it may be tempting to look the other way when you notice the male in your life struggling, remember that they could be affected with a life-threatening eating disorder, too. Reassure them that you care about them and that you see them in pain. Offer to help them get access to care and treatment providers who specialize in the care of eating disorders. The risk you take to talk about it, just might save a life!
Bonnie Brennan, MA, LPC, is Clinical Regional Managing Director at Eating Recovery Center.