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April 30, 2015

Men, Eating Disorders, and Isolation

Contributor: Leigh Bell, BA, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

“I felt ‘I’m the only guy in the world this has happened to,’” said Henry, who participated in a study of men with eating disorders. “So it can be quite an isolating thought as well ‘and no other guys have had this problem. What’s wrong with me? Why have I succumbed to this if no-one else has?’”

Henry was one of eight men who spoke frankly, but anonymously, about seeking treatment for their eating disorders1. Many of the men worried if they revealed their illness, friends and family would think they were weak. This feeling is quite pervasive in males who struggle with eating disorders, an illness much of society sees as a “female condition.”

“It can feel like an admission of being less than male” or being “something further wrong,” said participants in a separate survey of men with eating disorders2.

How Eating Disorders Breed Isolation

Eating disorders, regardless of who has one, breed isolation. The majority of those who suffer are clinically depressed, many suffer from anxiety disorders or other socially debilitating conditions. They’re feeling down or anxious. They don’t want to talk about the elephant in the mind, which is the eating disorder.

Even worse: What do most people do when they get together? Eat. This means someone with an eating disorder can no longer control food intake, calorie counting, or the nearest bathroom.

Fearing Judgement from Others

Men with eating disorders may sink deeper into isolation for fear of judgment from others about their struggles. The majority of males also latch onto eating disorders from a different point than females. Men have often been mildly to moderately obese in their lives before developing an eating disorder. Women, on the other hand, have felt fat before the eating disorder but, in truth, have been within normal weight range.

Research shows overweight teens are socially marginalized and isolated more than their average-weight peers3. So those males who were obese before their eating disorder could carry isolation into their illness.

Over-exercise can also isolate men with eating disorders because males, when compared to female cohorts, use excessive exercise more than purging to control their weight and body shape4.

Community Discussion – Share thoughts here!

Have you or someone you loved suffered from an eating disorder as a male? Did you suffer from isolation that you believe was related to your gender? How do you believe that we can better provide support for men with EDs?


 
References:

  1. Griffiths, S., Murray, S., Touyz, S. (2015) Extending the masculinity hypothesis: An investigation of gender role conformity, body dissatisfaction, and disordered eating in young heterosexual men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 16(1), 108-114.
  2. Thapiliyal, P. and Hay, P. (2014) Treatment experiences of males with an eating disorders: a systematic review of qualitative studies. Translational Developmental Psychiatry. Accessed April 10, 2015.
  3. Strauss, R.S., Pollack, H.A. (2003). Social marginalization of overweight children. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medication,157(8):746-752.
  4. Strother, E., Lemberg, R., Stanford, S.C., and Turberville, D. (2012). Eating disorders in men: underdiagnosed, undertreated, and misunderstood. Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 20(5), 346-355.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 28th, 2015
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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