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Yes, Men Have Eating Disorders Too

  • Eating

When I write, I confess I usually have a “she” in mind as a reader, but I, of course, recognize that many men have eating disorders because I have known them personally and treated them as clients. Read on and learn about how these disorders affect males.

Leigh Cohn, MAT, CEDS and Stuart Murray, DCLINPSYCH, PhD write about men with eating problems in the October 2014 newsletter (Gurze-Salucore Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue). First they give the facts, challenging the assumption that males make up a miniscule portion of troubled eaters—5 to 10%--when the actual number is about five times that many. According to the a Harvard University household study of over 9000 people, “25% of individuals with anorexia nervosa and bulimia and 36% with binge eating disorder were male.” They go on to say, “The gap is even closer when it comes to subclinical eating disordered behaviors, according to a review of numerous studies (Mond, 2014). For activities like binge eating 42-45% of bingers were male; as were 28-100% of individuals who regularly purged. Laxative abuse among genders was nearly even, and fasting for weight loss was endorsed by nearly 40% of the males.”

In terms of body image, most women focus almost solely on weight loss, while men want to pack on muscle. Moreover, Cohn and Murray point out that “our current methods of indexing eating disorder symptoms appear to be female oriented,” such as asking questions about thinness and wanting specific body parts to be smaller. Men would more typically be concerned with building muscularity, say, in their waist. Additionally, men are often stigmatized as having a women’s disease and don’t talk about their problems or reach out for help in the same high numbers that women do.

In this same newsletter, Doug Winter, B.A. and Ray Lemberg, Ph.D. write about how few gender specific—ie, male—recovery groups there are. I love what they have to say, “Many eating disorder treatment centers treat men, however few treat men in gender specific groups. Together, the men in an eating disorder therapy group can move past the cultural voices that say eating disorders are a woman’s disease or that to admit being dissatisfied with one’s body is weak. Having the shared experience of being a man with a disease that is often perceived as a female problem is one reason why gender specific eating disorder treatment is so important (Strother et al, 2012). Together men with eating disorders can overcome their shame and use the power of their shared experience to find recovery.”