As we wrap up National Eating Disorder Awareness week, with this year’s theme of “Let’s Get Real”, a major focus of the campaign is on ending stigma. One group of people who struggle with being stigmatized the most are males with eating disorders. It is a common stereotype that only women struggle with eating and body image issues, when in reality 1 in 3 people with an eating disorder is male and 10 million males in the United States alone will be impacted by an eating disorder at some point in their lives. There is also a commonly held misperception that the only males who suffer from eating disorders are homosexuals; actually, the majority of men with eating disorders are heterosexual.
Men and boys of all backgrounds experience eating disorders, and there is a high prevalence rate amongst athletes. Just this week, Seattle Mariner’s catcher Mike Marajma opened up about his battle with an eating disorder (https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/seattle-mariners-catcher-mike-marjama-has-message-men-struggling-eating-disorders). Sports that focus on weight restriction as a means for improving performance create increased vulnerability for the development of eating disorders. Gymnasts, runners, body builders, rowers, wrestlers, jockeys, dancers, and swimmers are at risk when pressure is put on them to achieve a certain weight.
Men often go undiagnosed or untreated for a variety of reasons. They are less likely to seek treatment and more likely to be overlooked by medical professionals. Eating disorders in general have the highest mortality rate of any mental health condition and studies have shown that males have an even greater risk of dying from an eating disorder than their female peers; again, a lag in proper diagnosis or barriers to seeking treatment can contribute. To highlight this, the last male with anorexia that I encountered clinically had been seeing a therapist for a year for anxiety and had undergone extensive medical testing for reported GI issues. He’d lost over 40 pounds in a short period of time and was at roughly 65% of his ideal body weight when I encountered him in the hospital (he was there for flu and dehydration). No one had recognized that what he was dealing with was in fact an eating disorder. He ended up requiring months of inpatient hospitalization to help him restore weight.
Luckily there are more intensive treatment options for men with eating disorders available as the field recognizes the need to offer gender inclusive treatment. In fact, a review of hospitalizations for men with eating disorders showed a 53% increase over a 10 year period from 1999-2009. If you are a male struggling with an eating disorder, or know a male who is, know that help is available!
A few resources:
“Man Up To Eating Disorders” by Andrew Walen