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Men, Dad, and Eating Disorders

Most of my clients, book readers, blog audience, and message board members are women—no big surprise considering that females bear the brunt of society’s pressure to be thin, a major cause of disregulated eating. Until recently, however, we assumed 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 males make up 25% of people with bulimia or anorexia nervosa and 40% of those who have binge-eating problems. The previous estimate had been about 10%. One explanation for this 30% jump is likely due to initial under-reporting of eating problems, as health professionals are more likely to attribute male weight loss to depression than to having disordered eating. Another explanation is that nowadays it’s more acceptable for men to acknowledge and talk about troubled eating than it was previously. Now there are books written specifically for men and organizations formed to treat them.

The article points out that over-exercising often goes hand in hand with male eating disorders, which brings to mind clients who’ve described their fathers as compulsive about exercise and obsessed with and rigid about healthful eating. As a professional, that description sounds suspiciously like an eating disorder, but my clients had never thought about this possibility. I raise the issue because male eating disorders often get lost in our culture which exalts nutritious 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 perceived in a positive, health conscious light.

Consider the men you know or have known, especially Dad, in regard to disordered eating. Along with trimness, did/do they “have to” go for a run or to the gym on an unwavering schedule, regularly choosing exercise over other, particularly family, activities? Did/do they demonize and refuse to eat sugar- or fat-laden foods? Did/do they get upset when you ate/eat sweets or treats, expressing intense criticism of your food choices or lack of sufficient exercise? Did/do they get most of their self-esteem from fitness or thinness? Most of all, if they weren’t/aren’t ill but were/are losing weight rapidly, might they have been/be in denial about their disordered eating? Recognizing disordered eating and exercising in the men in your life, especially Dad, might help them and you better understand and overcome eating problems.

What Do You Really Want?
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