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I suppose the first thing I should mention in this blog is that I am not a man. I assert this because I, a cisgender, white female, don’t want to speak for an entire population as if I have been in their shoes. Even so, the point of this blog is to look at what research and mental health professionals have learned to be distinctive experiences for men and eating disorder recovery.
The following points are garnered from a recent study that acknowledged that individual experiences of recovery are just as diverse as their experiences of recovery.
I hope I can, to the best of my ability, translate the research in a way that honors and respects the experience of males in eating disorder treatment and recovery and informs others of the ways in which this experience is unique.
Men and Eating Disorder Recovery
The Same but Different
This is a good way to describe each individual’s eating disorder experience.
They may fit the same criteria or have the same diagnosis, but every journey is different. This has especially proven to be true of male versus female experience of eating disorders, with research indicating that “men have different perceptions and experiences of their disordered eating behaviors compared to women .”
The same seems to be true of recovery, as men and women may undergo the same treatment with varying recovery results. In fact, men are undertreated for disordered eating behaviors, but they appear to have greater successful recovery than women, particularly in the areas of body weight restoration and purging behaviors .
In relation to specific diagnoses, men that undergo treatment for anorexia nervosa have a 59% 5-year remission rate versus 39% for women .
Another study determined that men reported being aware of the effects of an eating disorder and the shame associated with it. Researchers hypothesize this may explain the increased remission rates, as this knowledge increases motivation for recovery .
The recent study published in the Journal of Eating Disorders attempted to “explore how men define/ understand their own ED recovery and what features or aspects of their recovery process constitute their understanding of recovery .”
Researchers did so by doing a semi-structured interview of eight men in eating disorder recovery. Two noteworthy themes were found after analyzing the data from these interviews.
This theme focused on men’s ability to regain authentic psychological control.
Researchers found that, as their disordered eating behaviors declined and they found freedom to eat, the men experienced that the “intense sense of control that is a common characteristic quintessential to EDs no longer obstructed their daily lives and gave them a release from their anxiety and other negative states .”
Through this process, their self-confidence increased as well as their ability to empathize with themselves and one another and build a self-identity and interpersonal relationships.
Recovery is Not Clear
The second theme found by analyzing the interviews was this valuable point – recovery lacks definition. There is no one way to recover, and “recovery from ED has no definite endpoint and is rather an ongoing and recursive process .”
The men interviewed recognized that moving forward through this recovery process involves consistently receiving ongoing support from loved ones and providers.
The Same but Different…Still
This study found, interestingly, that taken together, “men and women perceive recovery similarly albeit with varying etiological and treatment factors driving recovery .”
However, their findings also indicate that men’s consideration of recovery did not place much emphasis on physical parameters, which varies from information found in women . As research continues to grow, we really learn that the more we know, the less we know.
Said differently, the more we learn about the experience, treatment, and recovery of eating disorders from the vantage point of various cultures, ethnicities, genders, sexual identities, economic statuses, etc., the more we learn that these experiences diverge in many different ways for each individual.
Resources: Lewke-Bandara, R. S., Thapliyal, P., Conti, J., Hay, P. (2020). “It also taught me a lot about myself: “a qualitative exploration of how men understand eating disorder recovery.” Journal of Eating Disorders, 8:3.
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published March 30, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on March 30, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC