Males Get Eating Disorders, Too

Contributor: Megan Dottermusch, community manager for Counseling@Northwestern

photo 1 - males getting eating disorders tooThe awareness around and treatment of eating disorders is usually associated with females, but the truth is that they are a gender-neutral issue. This year, National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is Feb. 22 to 28, and this month provides a good opportunity to shine a light on the plight of men who struggle with this problem.

To gain a better understanding of this issue, I spoke with Leigh Cohn — the founder and editor in chief of Eating Disorders, the Journal of Treatment and Prevention and the president of the National Association of Males with Eating Disorders. N.A.M.E.D. is a professional organization committed to providing support, clinical intervention and research in the area of eating disorders among males.

Eating Disorders Should Be Gender Neutral

There’s a good reason why eating disorders should not be viewed as a female issue. According to Cohn, anywhere from 25 percent to 33 percent of all cases of eating disorders are male.

“I suspect that the numbers are higher than that. For example, for binge eating, it is at least 40 percent or higher. So there should be more gender equality,” he said.

However, Cohn said that doctors sometimes have trouble recognizing that men have eating disorders. Medical professionals tend to focus on the female perspective in their assessments, which can leave the warning signs for males overlooked.

“Assessment tests are written and slanted toward females, with such comments as ‘I don’t’ like my thighs,’ but to detect problems in men, ‘I wish I had a six pack,’ represents a more appropriate type of assessment question.” he said.

Identifying Symptoms in Men

photo 2 - males get eating disorders tooMen display many of the same symptoms of eating disorders as women.

“Low self-esteem, depression, ideas about perfectionism, a lot of those personality traits are similar,” said Cohn. They may also experience loss of teeth and gum disease, enamel erosion, and “chipmunk cheeks” from swollen glands due to vomiting. Other symptoms include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders

And the symptoms may manifest in other ways, such as purging through running.

“A guy may binge eat and want to get rid of the calories so he runs five miles,” Cohn said. “But he knows nothing about nutrition or eating disorders … and he ends up developing anorexia.”

How Can We Help?

Eating disorders are much less likely to be detected early in males because of a misdiagnosis by doctors, as well as the inability of others to notice the symptoms and detect this condition.
Males are also more likely to be ashamed, and less likely to seek help.

“We as a society have to remove the stigma of talking about eating disorders, so males don’t feel ashamed, ” Cohn said. “We should have the same level of compassion and empathy that we have with women.”

If you are interesting in helping others with eating disorders and, like Leigh Cohn, are passionate about spreading awareness to combat mental health stigmas, you may want to consider pursuing a masters in counseling.

Note: While building awareness is essential, eating disorders should be diagnosed and treated by a medical physician or counselor. For more information on help and support, visit the websites of N.A.M.E.D. and the National Eating Disorders Association.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What are your thoughts on raising awareness on the issue of Males and Eating Disorders? How can we best get the word out that this issue is not for females only?

About the Author:

Megan Dottermusch is the community manager for Counseling@Northwestern, the masters in counseling program offered by The Family Institute at Northwestern online.

She earned her B.S. in Business Marketing from the University of Maryland and served as Risk Manager on Kappa Delta Sorority’s Executive Board. In that role Megan was a confidant and resource for its members seeking help for personal and emotional issues.

As a result, she has become passionate about combating mental health stigmas and promoting wellness through proper nutrition, fitness, and everyday mindfulness.

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 February 19th, 2015
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