Males, Masculinity & Shame in Eating Disorders

Contributor: Castlewood Eating Disorder Treatment Team

Potter at workThere is a new and heightened awareness today of eating disorders in males, and in the past few years more males have been publicly coming forward to share their experiences.

What had mistakenly been considered largely a women’s disorder has become more consciously described by body image standards and psychological issues which equally effect both sexes.

The willingness of men to talk about their struggles with eating disorders, has made a significant impact in reducing the stigma associated with this illness in males.

The Unhealthy Attempt at Coping

Eating disorders are generally understood as the outcome of attempts by an individual to cope with problems, through the manipulation of food and weight. In the absence of healthy coping strategies, compulsions to regulate emotions and to feel effective or in control can become maladaptive.

Contributing to this issue is the level of attention and value placed on appearance in Western culture, which places pressures to meet an unrealistic standard. Focusing on an ideal in this way can become a method of avoiding managing feelings or conflicts.

Factors That Increase Vulnerability to An Eating Disorder

Some of the factors that can increase vulnerability to developing an eating disorder can include:

  • The dysfunctional eating of a parent or a chaotic family environment
  • Impulsivity
  • Perfectionism
  • Depression
  • Teasing
  • Heightened sensitivity
  • Low self-esteem

No single factor or specific combination is solely responsible for a person developing an eating disorder, and each individual will have a unique experience and triggers.

Do you need help now? Call a specialist at Castlewood: 1-877-380-1549

Gender Differences in the Development of Eating Disorders

People at the gymGender differences will present certain challenges as a result of the ideals and standards presented through modern media.

Historically, males are expected to be strong, virile, in control, competent and financially successful. While our modern society has come a great distance from limiting gender roles in everyday life, in many ways they are still very present in the forms presented by media icons.

Male masculinity is still portrayed as strength and muscularity epitomizing power, character and independence. In this way eating disorders in males may begin with over- exercising, which gives the individual a sense of achievement and self-control.

Traditional stereotypes of men as invulnerable can prevent men from acknowledging an eating disorder for fear of being seen as an inadequate man.

The Denial of Eating Disorders in Men

In his article, “Men get Eating Disorders too” Jon Derek Croteau describes: “What would it do for (me) to admit that I might possibly have a girls’ disease? But there’d be no need to consider such a notion; no one brought the idea up, so I assumed there was nothing “real” afflicting me.”

Men struggling with eating disorders run a risk of being undiagnosed, misdiagnosed or potentially encouraged to do things that complicate an eating disorder. Substance abuse, anger, isolation and self-harm can also become coping methods used by males to elude their struggles around body image.

Until recently there have been few positive role models for men to identify with who are willing to be open and honest about the pressure they have faced in regards to masculinity, body image standards and the shame felt with eating disorders.

Public Figures with Eating Disorders

Recent personal disclosures of men struggling with eating disorders include those of John Prescott, former Deputy Prime Minister of Britain, David Beckwerment, a Canadian oil CEO, Gary Grahl, an American school counselor, and U.S. model Ron Saxen.

While these public disclosures have helped pave a way for men to have a voice in the dialogue about eating disorders, there still exist thousands who do not discuss their struggles with body image, eating disorders, extreme dieting and excessive exercise.

Recognizing the Signs of an Eating Disorder

Uomo in ufficio disperatoLearning to recognize the signs of an eating disorder, and what attitudes and behaviors are unhealthy, is a good first step toward finding a solution. Strict avoidance of certain foods, particularly those considered fattening, or the tendency to be overly self-critical or perfectionistic can be warning signs.

When exercise regimes are increasingly longer and more demanding and the use of ‘health’ supplements is sought to increase bulk or decrease weight, this can be risky behavior as well.

It’s important for men to look critically at advertisements and products marketed toward enhancing masculinity or male appearance. Similar to diet products marketed to women, these are designed as profit making businesses whose goal is not necessarily to better the overall health of men. Good nutrition and enjoyment of activities are a far better supplement for good health than any advertised product.

Speaking Out About Eating Disorders in Men

It’s essential that men begin to speak out about eating disorders and expand on the ideas of “masculinity,” with what it means to be who you are in a diverse and complex society. Body or muscle size, shape, or weight do not determine the worth of a person, or define the identity of a man.

By focusing on and enhancing the positive qualities that are not related to appearance, these capacities will begin to define your identity and your worth.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What has been your experience with males and eating disorders? How do you think we can better support men in eating disorder recovery?

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 March 21st, 2015
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