Why Eating Disorders Affect More Men Than You Think

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Contributor: Staff at Carolina House

Ask 100 people on the street which gender they associate more with eating disorders, and you’ll probably get the same answer. For decades, the stigma has been that eating disorders almost exclusively affect women – young women, in particular. They do predominantly affect the female population, but the percentage of men with eating disorders is fairly alarming.

Males make up approximately 25% of those who grapple with eating disorders. Men and boys account for a quarter of all cases of anorexia and bulimia and a third of all binge-eating disorder cases. That these numbers raise an eyebrow is perhaps a good indication of how few men are actually open and honest about their struggles.

What can we do to learn more about the increasing prevalence of eating disorders in men? How can we destigmatize concerns about getting help, which is an ongoing issue for both genders?

Men with Eating Disorders and How it Affects Them

More than 10 million men in the United States will be affected by an eating disorder at some point in their life. In many instances, eating disorders – which already have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness – can have even more cumulatively dangerous effects on men than women.

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Men who have anorexia, for instance, are at an even higher risk of mortality, partially because they are often a late diagnosis due to the stigma attached to male eating disorders. Somewhere between 10%-20% of people who have eating disorders will die, and a fifth of those deaths will be due to suicide.

“Men with eating disorders do often get very sick because in general, they are not seeking out medical care or being identified as having a problem until much later in the natural history of the disease process, compared to women,” Jeffrey Mechanick, M.D., an endocrinologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said in a 2019 WebMD article. “We are probably missing a lot of these patients.”

Research completed in the 1970s and ’80s most commonly linked eating disorders in men to those who were gay. But in reality, most men who have eating disorders are heterosexual.

Regardless of sexual orientation, the stigma attached to a man seeking help for a problem most consider to be feminine exists – as does the potential shame associated with looking for psychological assistance.

Common Traits Among Males With Eating Disorders

Body image and weight loss concerns affect men as well as women, and these can often be an underlying factor for eating disorders in males.

But there are some common differences between how eating disorders present in men and women. Males who have eating disorders tend to be older and have a higher rate of co-occurring psychiatric concerns such as anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders.

They are less likely to engage in purging and more likely than women to display suicidal behaviors. Additionally, men are more likely to have been previously overweight than women who have eating disorders.

Boy considering residential treatment for Men with Eating DisordersOne big difference between men and women who have eating disorders is that men who are struggling tend to exercise far more frequently. A man who has anorexia, for instance, could mask this by burning calories on the treadmill or spending lengthy amounts of time lifting weights to burn fat.

A man who has binge-eating disorder might take in a huge number of calories. But because these behaviors are seen as somewhat typical male behaviors, they might not be a cause for alarm for the people who care about them.

How to Address a Problem That Isn’t Going Away

From 1999 to 2009, hospitalizations involving eating disorders for men increased by 53%. As mentioned above, men who have eating disorders tend to wait until far too late in the game to receive proper treatment.

When they do seek help, the news is promising. There’s no discernible difference in studies that have been done on recovery rates by gender, but statistics show that up to 80% of those who complete eating disorder treatment will either recover or improve significantly.

Treatment options are available. It’s important to find comprehensive, evidence-based care that also accounts for the co-occurring mental health conditions that often accompany eating disorders, such as anxiety and depression. Because the data and research aren’t as complete when it comes to eating disorders among men, seeking treatment that assesses each man’s unique recovery needs is critical.

Eating disorder treatment can help men share a sense of community and understand that they are not alone in their journey. There are more men out there struggling with eating disorders than the average person thinks, and many are suffering in silence. Speaking up and recognizing the need for help is a giant step toward long-term recovery.


References:

Eating Disorders in Men & Boys. (n.d.). National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved from: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/research-on-males.

Clopton, J. (2019, Sept. 5). Men’s Eating Disorders Often Not Recognized. WebMD. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/anorexia-nervosa/news/20190906/mens-eating-disorders-often-not-recognized.

Olivardia, R. (2018, Nov. 18). Eating Disorders in Men. Yes, in Men. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psychologically-in-sync/201811/eating-disorders-in-men-yes-in-men.

Men & Eating Disorders. (n.d.). National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved from: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/men-eating-disorders.


About the Sponsor:

Carolina House BannerCarolina House is an eating disorder treatment center that serves people of all genders, ages 17 and older. Within our residential and outpatient programs, we offer a range of services such as LGBTQ- and male-inclusive programming to help individuals who are struggling with eating disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions. Our treatment connects men and women with the care they need to achieve long-term recovery from eating disorders and other mental health concerns.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of 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 on April 20, 2020.
Reviewed & Approved on April 20, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.