Male Eating Disorders: A Snapshot of Statistics and Their Implications

Contributor: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC, President @ Eating Disorder Hope

Consulting with expert.Male eating disorders are life threatening illnesses that must be addressed. Though the percentage of males with eating disorders is estimated to be lower than females, it is important that we shed as much light as possible on this topic.

  • 10-15% of those diagnosed with Anorexia or Bulimia are male1.

Why Do Men Avoid Seeking Treatment?

Despite increased efforts by the eating disorder community to bring awareness and prevention of male eating disorders, it is still often stigmatized as a female issue. Since males often want to be perceived as strong, masculine and independent – this can hinder their willingness to ask for help.

  • Many men avoid seeking treatment for eating disorders because of their feelings of shame, due to a common belief that eating disorders are a female issue, not male2.

What Type of Eating Disorders Do Men Commonly Get?

Research seems to indicate that there are a higher frequency of eating disorders in gay males.
It would be interesting to further investigate what are the typical personality types, genetic makeup and environmental factors that these males may have in common.

  • It is estimated that 20% of gay males suffer from anorexia and 14% suffer from bulimia3.

Why Are Men More Susceptible in College?

Hiking shoesMale college students could be more vulnerable to eating disorders. Since college is a major life transition time (leaving home, establishing independence away from parents, greater responsibility, etc), it certainly seems like a ripe environment for males who are vulnerable to developing eating

  • In college screening of males, 1 out of every 3 positive screenings for eating disorders were male4.

What Are Typical Behaviors of Men with Eating Disorders?

Males struggling with bulimia have a high propensity toward engaging in excessive exercise to offset the caloric intake of binge eating than females. Males are not as inclined to engage in purging through self induced vomiting or abusing laxatives.

  • Men are less likely than women to engage in “typical” bulimic compensatory behaviors, such as vomiting or laxative abuse; while having more of an inclination to use excessive exercise as a compensatory method for weight and body shape control5.

Do Men Feel “Out of Control” When They Suffer from an Eating Disorder?

Interestingly, males do not feeling out of control when engaging in binge eating. Whereas females often report feeling out of control when binging. Since the disordered eating behavior is typically similar, greater clarification of what “feeling out of control” is like for both genders would be helpful

  • While women frequently report a sense of being out of control during a binge eating episode, men do not6.

What Are the Contributing Factors to Eating Disorder Development in Men?

InsomniaMale contributing factors to the development of an eating disorder seem to be similar to females.

These are a number of genetic and environmental factors that lead to anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder. Perhaps self esteem is a combination of both a personality style (genetic) and environmental factors (frequency the individual has interpreted themselves as adequate, competent and loved).

  • Though low self esteem is correlated with weight preoccupation in both men and women, it is less so in men7.

Do Men Struggle with Body Image Issues?

Boys and men have been becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their bodies over the years and are struggling with body image. Eating disorders are frequently misunderstood and remain undiagnosed in males. Advertisers recognize that “sex sells” and have increasingly displayed partially nude males in advertisements. These males are typically very muscular and lean.

Males have become increasingly used in marketing as sex objects, and this has undoubtedly led to the pressure on men to have a more muscular build.

  • Even brief exposure to the media’s idealized images of what a male body should be can affect the male’s body image8.

What Is the “Idealized” Image for Men That’s Putting Pressure on Them?

Father and daughterMales are often more concerned with building muscle mass or gaining weight in order to fit into current societal expectations to be cut or have “six-pack” abdominal muscles. Men and boys who consider themselves to be bodybuilders are particularly vulnerable to eating disorders.

  • Bodybuilders reported significantly greater body dissatisfaction, with a high drive for bulk, high drive for thinness, and increased bulimic tendencies than either of the other athletic groups. In addition bodybuilders reported significant elevations on measures of perfectionism, ineffectiveness, and lower self-esteem9.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What has been your experience with eating disorders in males? What advice do you have to share on how we can positively impact boys/men suffering with eating disorders?


 
References:

  1. Carlat, D.J., Camargo. Review of Bulimia Nervosa in Males. American Journal of Psychiatry, 154, 1997.
  2. American Psychological Association, 2001.
  3. International Journal of Eating Disorders 2002; 31: 300-308.
  4. Eisenberg, D., Nicklett, E. J., Roeder, K., & Kirz, N., Eating disorder symptoms among college students: Prevalence, correlates, and treatment-seeking. Journal of American College Health, 59(8),2011, 700-707.
  5. Strother, E., Lemberg, R., Stanford, S. C., & Turberville, D. (2012). Eating Disorders in Men: Under diagnosed, Undertreated, and Misunderstood. Eating Disorders, 20(5), 346–355. doi:10.1080/10640266.2012.715512
  6. Weltzin T. Eating disorders in men: Update. Journal of Men’s Health & Gender. 2005;2:186–193.
  7. Pritchard, M. (2010). Does Self Esteem Moderate the Relation Between Gender and Weight Preoccupation in Undergraduates? Retrieved April 28, 2015, from http://scholarworks.boisestate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=psych_facpubs
  8. Leit, R. A., Gray, J. J. and Pope, H. G. (2002), The media’s representation of the ideal male body: A cause for muscle dysmorphia?. Int. J. Eat. Disord., 31: 334–338. doi: 10.1002/eat.10019
  9. Blouin, A., & Goldfield, G. (1995). Body image and steroid use in male bodybuilders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 159-165.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 8th, 2015
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com