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Males and Eating Disorders

  • Eating

Most of my clients, book and blog readers, and message board members are women, which is no big surprise considering that women bear the brunt of this society’s pressure to lose weight and be thin, which can be a factor leading to disregulated eating. Until recently, however, we thought that men with eating disorders were a small percentage of our population. It turns out that the number is higher than we thought.

According to a Cox Newspaper article, Men Struggle with weight and eating disorders, too, a national study conducted by Harvard of nearly 3,000 adults concluded that one quarter of people with bulimia or anorexia nervosa and 40% of individuals who had binge-eating problems were men. The previous estimate had maintained that about 10% of people with anorexia and bulimia were males. One explanation of this 30% difference is likely under-reporting of the problem because health professionals are more likely to attribute male weight loss to depression than to having an eating disorder. Another explanation is that nowadays it’s more acceptable for men to acknowledge and talk about having an eating disorder than it was previously. There are books written specifically for men and organizations formed to treat them exclusively.

The article points out that over-exercising often goes hand in hand with male eating disorders. Interestingly, I have had a number of clients who described their fathers growing up as compulsive about exercise and obsessed with eating healthfully. That information immediately registers for me as possibly eating disordered, but I grant that it might not to the average person. I raise the issue because this problem often gets lost in our culture which exalts healthy eating and exercise. Because women are more likely to be seen and diagnosed as eating disordered, men who over-exercise and eat rigidly or restrictively might simply be seen as health-conscious in a positive light

This is a time for you women to think about the men you know and have known and whether they might have an eating disorder. If they are on the thin side, do they also “have to” go for a run or to the gym, choosing these activities to the exclusion of other, particularly friend or family, activities? Do they refuse to eat any sugar- or fat-laden foods, insisting that they refrain only for health reasons? Do they get upset when you eat sweets or treats, becoming intensely critical of your food choices or lack of sufficient exercise. Most of all if they are not ill and are losing weight, are they in the throes of an eating disorder that they’re denying? If this is the case, you do them no favor by ignoring the problem which can only be overcome when it is recognized and addressed.