Eating Disorders in Men
Awareness of Eating Disorders in Men
Eating disorders have been around for many years and until recently were typically viewed as a female issue. Not anymore. Today, anorexia, bulimia, and especially binge-eating disorder, are on the rise in the male population. Anorexia is now diagnosed in boys as young as eight and a full 40% of those with binge-eating disorders are male.
Causes of Male Eating Disorders
Several factors contribute to this phenomenon. Much of this eating disorder increase is a result of America’s obsession with perfection in areas such as appearance and achievement. Whereas the need to be physically perfect was once exclusively directed at girls, today, boys are receiving similar pressure. Look at action figures: they are absurdly muscular, especially in the chest and shoulders. This does impact boys, not unlike the way Barbie has traditionally influenced girls. Now, consider advertising, where the men depicted are the male equivalent of super models: lean and fit, or cut and buff.
Boys and men alike often make comparisons to these images and find themselves lacking. This is why males are now dieting and working out to an extreme, becoming vulnerable to anorexia and exercise bulimia.
Boys with eating disorders resemble girls in many of their eating disordered behaviors. However, they face special societal pressures related to what it means to be male. At puberty boys feel pressure to be strong physically, often before their bodies can support the ideal body image they see in the media. To make matters worse, they lag developmentally behind girls at just the time they feel competitive with each other about being sexually attractive. Boys agonize over their looks like girls. They begin to form a lasting image of their bodies at puberty. Sometimes a poor body image leads to an eating disorder. Parents and caretakers can help boys negotiate the “looks-based” pressures of puberty. They can promote acceptance of a child’s genetically-given body. They can support ways of becoming mature other than through muscle development and adult-male-like sexual attractiveness.
Ways To Help with Body Image and Eating Problems in Men
If your loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, the following are ways in which you can offer support to the male in your life:
- Help boys understand that to fit in they don’t have to be muscle-bound and super-athletes. Boys need the same help as girls fitting comfortably into their genes.
- Boys need help with the grow-up-fast mentality pedaled by our media. Tell them there is no rush.
- Help boys understand there is no need to hyper-control their body. Both boys and girls need to undo mistaken notion that the body can be shaped and molded, at will, to fit a cookie-cutter image of the perfect body.
- Help boys understand their locus of control needs to be more on the inside, not on the outside, when it comes to understanding what is valuable about themselves.
- Help your son with an eating disorder develop age-appropriate autonomy, even if he is dependent on you for guidance around eating and exercise. Help him transition from boyhood to adulthood by encouraging age-appropriate responsibilities and social behaviors. This helps support developing manhood and increasing responsibility in ways that are not focused on looks.
- Help boys understand that most kinds of power do not come with big muscles and a “might makes right” attitude.
- Help boys find relief from agonizing over their appearance around puberty by helping them accept their bodies as they are. Help them focus on developing other aspects of who they are, other than their looks.
- If your son is seeking refuge in anorectic regression to pre-puberty, help him get to professional assistance. Do your best to support a dialog about what is fueling his maturity fears. Sometimes just making time to do activities together provides the best opportunity for dialog and exchange.
Be sure to seek treatment at a qualified eating disorder center.
Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 25, 2012
Page last updated: June 12, 2012
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Eating Disorders Information