The Surprising Truth About Men and Eating Disorders
As an eating disorder recovery advocate, I have spent countless hours educating others on eating disorders. When I mention eating disorders in the male population, many people, including professionals, act surprised or insist that they do not know any males with eating disorders.
Men with eating disorders are underdiagnosed, undertreated, and misunderstood.
Here’s an example: A couple of years back, I was speaking with a clinician I had just met. He asked me what I did, so I told him. "I advocate for eating disorder recovery." His reply was, "Oh, I work only with men, and they don't have eating disorders." My heart sank. I knew one of his colleagues quite well — and I also knew that this colleague had been struggling with an eating disorder for a very long time.
Even many clinicians don’t recognize the risk, signs and symptoms of eating disorders in males.
Having an eating disorder — or perhaps admitting to having one — goes against the Man Rules.
My friend, Dan Griffin, an author and expert on men's relationships and masculinity, educates people on the "Man Rules." Have you heard of this term? The Man Rules are the “ideas created by our society that boys and men are expected to follow to let the world know that we are real boys and real men."
Some of the more powerful Man Rules are:
- Don't cry.
- Don't ask for help.
- Don't be vulnerable.
- Don't be weak.
- Be a sexual superman.
Dan believes that the most compelling thing about the Man Rules is how unconscious so many men are to them and how deeply they run in the lives of men.
- Real men don't have body image problems.
- Real men don't obsess about food.
- And everyone knows that men don't really care about their weight, right?
Dan believes that the eating disorder world is dominated by women's experiences, thereby creating the idea that it is a woman's issue. That alone, according to Griffin, makes it difficult for men to admit to themselves or to others that they are struggling in this area. And so, as Dan would suggest, we must do more to help males get the help they need.
The number of males with eating disorders has more than doubled in the last ten years.
- The female-to-male ratio of people with eating disorders is currently 3-to-1. (This assumes that we are accurately recognizing EDs in males and that males are coming forward at similar rates to females).
- One study found that about 57 percent of males with binge eating disorder struggle with substance use disorders (SUD), compared to only 28 percent of females with binge eating disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2006).
- Eating disorders are at least five times more prevalent among gay and bisexual men than heterosexual men. Griffin points out that there is much more permission for gay and bisexual men to have eating disorders they may be more likely to be treated as if they are not men, as if they are more feminine than masculine. This, therefore, increases the likelihood that men who identify as heterosexual would be less likely to come forward.
The public tends to believe that eating disorders are a female problem.
In speaking with Griffin, he reinforced his firm belief that eating disorders are not a new phenomenon for men at all. He states, "We’ve just been missing them all of these years. We were expecting them to look different, or we simply weren't looking for them at all. We have feminized the issue so that it will take some time to understand the real impact that eating disorders are having on men. Who knows what the real statistics are, but we can have confidence that many more men are suffering from EDs than we think — or have services to help."
So, I ask you, how can we help more males with eating disorders get the help and recovery they so deserve?
Robyn Cruze, MA is National Recovery Advocate and online community manager for Eating Recovery Center.