Male College Students: Where to Find Support

Contributor: Rachel Collins, LPC, guest contributor for Eating Disorder Hope

Handsome smiling confident businessman portraitThe prevalence of eating disorders in males is likely higher than statistics show given the stigma that eating disorders are a female dominated disorder. Although the prevalence of disordered eating is likely high in both females and males, males are less likely to report occurrences of disordered eating behavior. Difficulties with diagnosing males may become less difficult with the implementation of the fifth edition of the diagnostic manual.

Many studies on males with eating disorders do not have a large enough sample size to truly represent the population making recommendations for this population difficult. College for both genders is often the period of onset for disordered eating behaviors. During college, the typical age of onset, males are in need of support to combat development or prolonging disordered eating behaviors. College campuses feature counseling centers but given the stigma surrounding males and eating disorders, males would be less likely to seek treatment at the center.

How Males Develop Eating Disorders

O’Dea and Abraham (2002) found that twenty percent of young college men displayed attitudes and behaviors that were characteristic of eating disorders similar to the female counterparts. College healthcare services should be aware of the prevalence of men who may present with distorted views in relation to exercise, weight and shape through education and treatment that is male specific (O’Dea & Abraham, 2000).

Reasons for males developing eating disorders are similar as well as different than reasons females have been found to develop eating disorders. Research has found that males can develop eating disorders to avoid teasing regarding being overweight, improvement of athletic performance, avoidance of weight related medical complications and improvement of homosexual relationships (Anderson & Holman, 1997).

Lessening the Stigma of Eating Disorders in Men

group of graduates holding diplomaPart of providing support to males is lessening stigma surrounding the disorders through education of the college campus as a whole. It is important for those in the mental health profession to consider how masculinity could impact diagnosis, assessment and treatment. Males are reluctant by definition of masculinity to rely on others, admit need for help, and do not want emotional problems labeled because these traits are against the traditional definition of masculinity (Greenberg & Schoen, 2008).

Colleges should provide forums for males who may not want to openly admit to disordered eating behavior. For example, clubs can be formed or meetings held that attract males that are regarding topics such as improving athletic performance, or weight training clubs focused on working with a variety of males physiques. The goal would not be to openly state the discussion in such arenas was about disordered eating but to provide the opportunity for discussion among likeminded males with the support of counselors present if needed.

Dealing with Eating Disorders as an Athlete

Athletes in sports on college campuses where disordered eating behavior is more likely should as part of athletic participation participate in the a screening program for eating disorders that is offered on a lot of campuses.

This gives a male an opportunity to disclose possible problematic behavior in a less directive manner which may feel safer. The National Eating Disorders screening program is a two stage screening program started in 1996 with the purpose of identifying problem eating behaviors that warrant further referral for intervention (Becker, Franko, Nussbaum, & Herzog, 2004).

libraryTo support males who may be at risk or have developed issues with disordered eating it is important to understand the sociocultural factors that could lead to the development of a disorder. Factors that have been identified to contribute to the development of an eating disorder include history of obesity, participation in certain athletic endeavors that emphasize body and physical appearance and homosexuality (Franco, Tamburrino, Carroll, & Bernal, 1988).

More Research Is Needed

Overall more research is needed on males to learn how to best support them within a college campus as well as in the community if he develops an eating disorders. Majority of research includes a small sample size that is often difficult to generalize the results to the greater population. It has been said that males and females show more similarity in the development of eating disorders than differences.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you or your loved one struggled with eating disorders while in college? How do you think we can better support and bring awareness for male college students suffering with eating disorders?
Anderson, A.E., & Holman, J.E. (1997). Males with eating disorders: Challenges for treatment and research. Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 33(3), 391.

  1. Becker, A.E., Franko, D.L., Nussbaum, K., & Herzog, D.B. (2004). Secondary prevention for eating disorders: The impact of education, screening, and referral in a college-based screening program. International Journal of Eating Disorders
  2. Franco, K.S.N., Tamburrino, M.B., Carroll B.T., & Bernal, G.A.A. (1988). Eating attitudes in males. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 7(2), 285-288.
  3. Greenberg, S.T., & Schoen, E.G. (2008). Males and eating disorders: Gender-based therapy for eating disorder recovery. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 39(4), 464-471.
    O’Dea, J.A., & Abraham S. (2002). Eating and exercise disorders in young college men. Journal of American College Health, 50(6), 273.

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 May 29th, 2015
Published on