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Eating Disorder in Males: Why is it more Prevalent and Deadly?

One of the causes of eating disorder in men is the body image pressure. / Photo by: Viktoriya Malova via 123rf

 

Most people used to think that eating disorders only happen to teenage girls that are hyper-focused on their weight. However, this disorder can occur among all ages and genders including the male.  Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder are on the rise among the male population.

According to Psycom, researchers have estimated that men represent roughly 10% of the individuals who are treated for eating disorders. This percentage of men among people with eating disorder can be much higher since eating disorders in men are often overlooked or misdiagnosed by most clinicians. Moreover, the Center for Eating Disorders has been treating males with eating disorders for over 20 years.

Based on the website of the Center for Eating Disorders, any professionals agree that the ratio of males to females with eating disorders is actually higher than 1:10. Aside from the fact that it is less likely to be identified correctly, cultural stigma regarding males and eating disorders can make it more difficult for men to come forward, ask for help and seek treatment on their own. Like most women diagnosed with eating disorders, men are also at risk for developing depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

The lifetime prevalence rates of eating disorders in males are .03% will suffer from anorexia, 0.5% for bulimia and 2% will experience binge eating disorder. Moreover, 40% of people diagnosed with binge eating disorder are males.

Risk Factors and Possible Causes of Eating Disorder in Male

There are a lot of factors that can contribute to this phenomenon. Body image pressure is one of the strongest factors that can contribute to the cause of the disorders. The media always portray the male body as being muscular and toned. Also, many advertisers for weight-loss and fitness products and programs focus on the idea that men are supposed to be lean and fit or even cut and buff.

Most of the time, men are being fed on a diet of media imagery of being muscular, having six pack of abs, strong jaws and big bulges coupled with the masculine scripts of never crying or being weak. Sum it all up and it will lead to total body dissatisfaction.

Just like how some girls always want to achieve the ‘ideal’ body, boys and men also often make a comparison to these images and find themselves lacking. With that, most males are now dieting and working out to an extreme making them vulnerable to anorexia, exercise bulimia, and muscle dysmorphia.

 

Just like women, most men are dieting now because they want to achieve the 'ideal' body. / Photo by: dolgachov via 123rf

 

A study found out that roughly 90% of teenage boys exercise with the purpose of bulking up. Eating Disorder Hope has said in their website that during puberty, boys feel pressure to be strong physically often before their bodies can support the ideal body image they see in the media. Like girls, most boys agonize over their looks. They start to form a lasting image of their bodies during their puberty stage.

Most men that are involved in athletic pursuits have a higher risk since they have the desired weight requirement that needs to be monitored and controlled. These athletes are involved in gymnastics, swimming, dancing, jockeying, wrestling, rowing, running, and bodybuilding.

Due to the pressure to attain a toned body, gay men may also have a higher risk but there are some researchers who are skeptical about whether there is a risk disparity due to sexual orientation. Also, according to Psychology Today, contrary to research that is done in the late ’70s and ’80s that always equated eating disorders in men to being gay, most men with eating disorders are heterosexual. There are also issues unique to gay men and eating disorders that should be considered. Gay men may suffer from body image problems for unique reasons but it doesn’t affect heterosexual men at all.

Psychological, genetic, and family influences can also be a factor.

Treatment Options

Due to a stigma associated with mental health and the myth that eating disorders only occur in women, most men with eating disorders are less likely to seek treatment. Men may feel uncomfortable when they participate in a predominantly female treatment program. Therefore, it is important to talk with a doctor about the possibility of a treatment focused on men. The risk of mortality from eating disorders is high in both men and women. It is important to seek treatment as soon as possible. If you are working with a counselor or psychiatrist, ask them if they have experience with men who have eating disorders. Self-help groups and online support groups can play a crucial role in the recovery of men with eating disorders

Talking to a doctor about your physical and mental health is also a vital part of seeking help since men with anorexia are more vulnerable in developing bone conditions such as osteopenia and osteoporosis that may require testosterone supplement. On the other hand, men with bulimia may suffer from tooth decay, complications in bowel and esophagus and electrolyte imbalances.

Eating disorders are treatable and help is available for everyone regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.

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