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Eating Disorders do not discriminate on background, religion, socio-economic status, race, sex, or gender. In fact, although we think about Eating Disorders as primarily a “female disorder,” according to NEDA , “about one in three people struggling with an Eating Disorder is a male.” Unfortunately, they are often fighting Muscular Dysmorphia or a poor body image.
For males, in particular, Eating Disorders are not always centered around weight-loss, although it can be. The ideal male body-type, as deemed by society, is to be lean and muscular. As you can imagine, for men who do not have this body type, they can put a lot of pressure on themselves to attain it, which can resort to unhealthy/unrealistic behaviors.
There is a specific name for this disorder that men face surrounding the ideal muscular body type, which is called Muscle Dysmorphia. According to Olivardia , “Muscular Dysmorphia or MD is defined by being preoccupied with worries that one’s body is ‘too small’ or ‘not muscular enough’ despite having a normal build, or in many cases, an objectively extremely ‘buff’ physique.”
If a male feels that they do not fit the masculine stereotype, they might struggle from low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy and furthermore may go to extreme lengths to try and increase their confidence. Men that struggle with MD, according to Olivardia, engage in “repeated behaviors or mental reviewing in response to their perceived physical ‘flaws’ or ‘defects.’”
They may spend hours at the gym trying to build muscle, for example, while keeping their intake minimal in an effort to achieve that lean muscular look. In terms of who MD affects, according to Nagata , “over a fifth of young males and 5% of young females engage in muscularity-oriented disordered eating behaviors.” So, while this disorder can affect females, it largely targets men.
Just like with any other form of an Eating Disorder, the thoughts and behaviors of Muscular Dysmorphia become an obsession and get out of control. According to Olivardia, men with MD “often follow very precise, time-consuming, and painstakingly picky diets, their eating habits are driven by an all-consuming concern with improving the mass and leanness of their muscles…”
This Eating Disorder can be extremely problematic as these individuals are working themselves to the core and not fueling their bodies enough to sustain all of the exercises they are doing.
What is worse is that, due to the stigma around men and Eating Disorders, many men never seek help for their Muscular Dysmorphia, and things then end up a lot worse then they might have otherwise been.
What is important, then, is that we continue to raise awareness of MD and men with Eating Disorders in general. We need to educate ourselves and one another about risk factors and symptoms.
We need to normalize the idea that men also struggle with Eating Disorders because they are human beings who have insecurities and are living in an image-obsessed world. What makes it difficult to recognize this disorder, in particular, is that we oftentimes see men in the gym, and we think they look fine on the outside, and healthy even.
It’s important to remember that just because someone might appear to look “healthy” from the outside or that they are working out does not mean they are taking care of their bodies in the right way. Men and their muscles can be a positive thing, but it can also take a very dangerous turn. We need to look out for that and make it part of our overall discussion about Eating Disorders.
 NEDA. “Eating Disorders in Men and Boys.” (2018). https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/research-on-males  Olivardia, Roberto. “Muscle Dysmorphia.” (2000). https://bdd.iocdf.org/expert-opinions/muscle-dysmorphia/  Nagata, Jason. “Predictors of Muscularity-Oriented Disordered Eating Behaviors in U.S. Young Adults: A Prospective Cohort Study.” (20 June 2019). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/eat.23094
About the Author:
Emma Demar, LMSW is a therapist at Intrinpsych Woman on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. She holds an LMSW from Fordham University and holds a BA in Creative Writing from Trinity College. Emma recently completed a 2-Year Fellowship at Intrinpsych where she was expertly trained in Eating Disorders and DBT.
She uses a holistic approach in working with her patients, drawing from her background in Psychodynamic, CBT, and DBT, and she likes to begin where the client is and work from a strengths-based perspective. She specializes in Eating Disorders, OCD and related mental health disorders. Emma uses a direct, honest and open approach in working with her patients, who are generally women ages 12 to 32. She freelance writes for various mental health websites, and she blogs on her own website, thattrendytherapist.com.
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.
Reviewed & Approved on March 29, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Published March 29, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com