Supporting a Male Family Member with an Eating Disorder

Boy considering residential treatment

Contributor: Courtney Howard, BA, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

The stigma associated with eating disorders affects men even more than it does women. This keeps many from admitting they have a problem or seeking help. Supporting a male friend or family member with an eating disorder is best done by recognizing the challenges he faces and encouraging his recovery.

How do eating disorders affect men?

Though more commonly associated with women, men are also susceptible to developing any classification of eating disorder from pica to bulimia nervosa. Men struggle with the same triggers that women who develop eating disorders face, ranging from anxiety and low self-worth to trauma. A 2007 study [1] reports that as many as 25 percent of the population with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa is male, as is up to 36 percent of the population with binge eating disorder (BED).

Some men turn to protein powder and bars as meal replacements in pursuit of often unrealistic body types reflected in “fitspo” social media posts and blogs, as well as to cope with feelings of anxiety or inadequacy in other areas of their lives. Richard Achiro, Ph.D., has conducted studies on males who take legal performance-enhancing drugs and supplements, finding that excessive use of these substances can indicate the presence of an eating disorder.

young handsome hipster modern man outdoor“Specifically,” Dr. Achiro explains in a paper on his findings, entitled Excessive Workout Supplement Use: An Emerging Eating Disorder in Men, “body dissatisfaction was found to mediate the relationship between internalization of cultural standards of attractiveness and risky body change behaviors… Self-esteem was also found to have a direct negative relationship with risky body change behaviors while gender role conflict… was found to have a direct positive relationship with body change behaviors.”

How can you support your loved one?

Supporting a male family member with an eating disorder can be challenging, as is the case with any loved one grappling with a serious mental health condition. You want to validate his feelings without validating his disordered thoughts, which is a fine line to walk.

Men facing an eating disorder, whether it be anorexia nervosa, supplement abuse, or another form of disordered eating, need a strong support system to overcome their condition. If your loved one can admit there is a problem, listening to his story can help him feel heard and better understood. Encouraging him to seek professional treatment can set him on the long (and often twisty) road to recovered life. This road will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Do you have experience supporting a man dealing with an eating disorder? What advice do you have to share?

Courtney Howard photoAbout the Author: Courtney Howard is a Certified Life Coach specializing in eating disorders through Lionheart Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching. As a content writer at The Sovereign Health Group while writing freelance through Eating Disorder Hope, Courtney is a passionate advocate for recovery and works to fight the stigma surrounding all mental health disorders. She graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) from San Diego State University, holds a paralegal certificate in Family Law, and is a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate.


[1]: Hudson, J., Hiripi, E., Pope, H., & Kessler, R. (2007). “The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication.” Biological Psychiatry, 61, 348–358.

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.

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 discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 31, 2015
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