Eating Disorders Affect Men Too
> 6/19/2008 2:09:00 PM


The majority of individuals suffering from eating disorders are female, but the first national study of eating disorders in adults indicates that men are much more susceptible than previously thought. 3,000 Americans were surveyed and the report, which was released in February of 2007, revealed that 25 percent of confessed anorexics and 40 percent of binge eaters in the study were male. The numbers presented by earlier studies added up to less than half of these totals.

These disorders are not as frequently diagnosed in men, and one potential reason is that body images have prevented the public from correctly understanding what eating disorders look like in men. While women encounter innumerable ads and programs implying that thinner is always better, idealized male forms focus more on large muscles and "six-pack" stomachs. Many men identified as having an eating disorder exercise excessively.

A common belief holds that these disorders are limited to fringe populations like those obsessive bodybuilders and the more image conscious members of the homosexual community. But while the popular images of the freakishly muscular weight lifter and the thin gay man often arise at the mention of male eating disorders, 80 percent of surveyed men who suffered from the same disorders were heterosexual, and the vast majority of men who make regular trips to the gym are not endangering their health. Athletics is, however, one of many possible contributors to the epidemic, as young men who serve in the military or participate in competitive sports like wrestling worry about losing their standing because of a failure to adhere to weight standards.

Many of the variables that leave people predisposed to eating disorders are the same for men and women: a family history of frequent dieting, an obsessive attention to detail, genetic problems with weight, depression, and substance abuse. Many of the treatment options are also identical: cognitive behavioral therapy to address issues of distorted body image, lifestyle modification, and, at times, medication to address issues of anxiety or depression. A major problem in the treatment and diagnosis of eating disorders among men is the fact that they often go unnoticed and, even when men realize that they have a problem, many are reluctant to seek help for disorders more often associated with thin models and teenage girls. Some prominent male celebrities have been open with their struggles, but they are few and far between. When boys begin hitting the gym harder or obsessing about their diets, many friends and caregivers chalk it up to an increasingly intense health regimen and believe it to be a good thing. But anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating are every bit as real for men as they are for women, and they should not be laughed away or dismissed by pop culture and public opinion.

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