Living in the Shadows: Men who suffer in silence

If you take a moment to analyze media images or flip though the latest magazine, you might be quick to assess who these advertisements are targeting.  Make-up, hair, lingerie, clothes upon clothes upon fashion ideologies and marketing statements.  It is no doubt that much of this industry is geared toward women, influencing trends that can be detrimental to those susceptible to developing an eating disorder.

Beneath this great shadow however, is a population of men sorely overlook.  Due to the stereotypes clouding those who suffer with eating disorders, it is commonly undermined that men are similarly vulnerable to developing such a devastating disease.  In spite of the fact that the number of men who struggle with an eating disorder has increased dramatically, men continue to be under-diagnosed, under-treated, and miscomprehended by loved ones and treatment professionals [1].

A recent study that has highlighted the issue of eating disorders in men, emphasized gender specific issues in men that should be better understood in order to offer more efficient treatment.  These issues include the following [1]:

  • Weight History
  • Sexual Abuse and other Trauma
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Depression and Shame
  • Exercise and Body Image
  • Co-morbid Chemical Dependency
  • Media Pressures

While many of these issues mirror similarities to those that women may face, this should not cause reason to assume that men and women who suffer with eating disorders can be lumped together in one category.  Take for example, weight history.  Many men’s weight concerns are persuaded by athletic achievement.  This would result in differing motives for weight loss or even weight gain, which might revolve around athleticism or achieving optimal performance in sports.  Another differing issue is how men approach depression and shame.  As contributing factors for eating disorders, depression and shame are issues that both men and women struggle with.  However, these can be associated with a “feminine” stigma, and in an attempt to mask any vulnerabilities, men might not be as likely to report these symptoms.

According to a survey done on eating disorders in men, under-reporting of eating disorder symptoms can become a major obstacle to the diagnosis, treatment, and accurate research for progression in this area [1].

Unfortunately, our culture is not one that embraces the acceptance of vulnerabilities.  Men in particular, may feel the need to disguise weakness or dismiss fragility, especially when it comes to eating disorders, which has largely been viewed as a women’s problem. This however, creates a major obstacle for the advancement of treatment as well as understanding of men with eating disorders [1].

If you are a man struggling with an eating disorder, or if you have a loved one in a similar situation, know that you are not alone.  Even if this issue does not personally affect you, it is important for us to become more aware as a culture and consider how our actions impact those who are suffering.  Becoming more mindful about our responses to other’s vulnerabilities and weakness opens up the possibility of healing and recovery.

Men who are suffering with eating disorders want recovery just as badly as their female counterparts.  Their road in recovery may be a bit more difficult however, in light of the stigma surrounding eating disorders and the lack of resources.  Hope is on the horizon though, and those who suffer in silence can be given a voice of freedom and optimism for a brighter future.  By promoting awareness of these eating disorder issues, advances in this field will encourage environments where men feel more at liberty to recognize and discuss their food and body issues, leading to the hope for recovery.


[1]: Eric Strother, Raymond Lemberg, Stevie Chariese Stanford & Dayton Tuberville.  Eating Disorders in Men: Underdiagnosed, Undertreated, and Misunderstood.  Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention 2012.  20(5), Pages 346-355.

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. As president, Jacquelyn manages Ekern Enterprises, Inc. and the Eating Disorder Hope website.