Men and Eating Disorders

You may notice, especially if you follow me on Twitter, that I am sharing a great deal of information about eating disorders this week, National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. NEDA has provided a number of articles on different eating disorder topics to help spread the word. I want to share this one because men with eating disorders exist but may be less likely to seek treatment given that most programs are geared towards women. Approximately 10% of eating disordered individuals coming to the attention of mental health professionals are male. There may be many more who do not seek help. Let’s help get the word out: people of all genders can suffer with eating disorders.

The following article was written by Troy Roness, NEDA Navigator and member of the NEDA Junior Board.

Strength Lies In Talking About It

As many as one million men in the United States struggle with an eating disorder, and it is critical that we start talking about it to encourage males who struggle to reach out for help. As a survivor, my message to other men is that recovery, without a doubt, is possible! This National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, February 20-26, 2011, you can be one of the thousands of people across the United States educating your community and directing those who struggle to potentially life-saving information.

After years of telling myself I was not “good enough” to ask for help or reach out to those around me, I finally opened my mind to the fact that every challenge can be met with a more progressive stance on what strength and masculinity really mean. Masculinity is not achieved by holding on to all of our pain and struggles; it is often the process of letting go and accepting the support and help of others that really makes us stronger.

Strength can come from insight drawn from within ourselves that we need help to recover. Fear of a reaction from loved ones can be a barrier to getting help, but with treatment and a strong support system, the march towards healing is definitely within reach. Contributing factors to an eating disorder in girls/women also affect males. Issues such as family struggles, trauma, perfectionism, self-doubt, anxiety or depression, unrealistic aesthetic standards and the interaction between environment and genetic predisposition can affect us all. Did you know that 1/3 of males use unhealthy ways to control their weight, such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives? A study of 131 football players conducted by Cornell University in 1994 revealed that nearly 40% of players engaged in eating disorder behaviors to control their weight. Eating disorders often develop from what begins as an attempt at weight loss, or for many men, a drive for muscularity.  11 years down the road, statistics continue to be alarming.  For males, hospitalizations with eating disorders increased 37 percent from 2000 to 2006. Our culture continues to place a high premium on superficial standards of attractiveness for both men and women, and recent scientific studies have documented the negative impact of the lean and muscular ideal on boys and men.

Eating disorders are complex illnesses that arise from a combination of long-standing behavioral, biological, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and social factors. While eating disorders may begin with preoccupations with food and weight, they are most often about much more than food.  People with eating disorders often use food and the control of food in an attempt to compensate for feelings and emotions that may otherwise seem over-whelming.  Help is available and recovery is possible.  Recovery is a beautiful thing. It encompasses who you are, what you will learn about yourself and it can allow you to process and deal with the roots of your illness. When we decide to reach out, we may realize that we have not been fully living while in our eating disorder. A life ruled by calories, numbers on a scale, how muscular we are or the hours at the gym does not leave room for what life could be. Oftentimes, the decision to simply say, “I need help,” can be terrifying and can be one of the hardest hurdles to jump over, but reaching out and committing to recovery can be the best decision you will ever make.

Recovery is an opportunity to appreciate each moment in our lives and finally come to a place where we can build our life from a house into something we call home. Recovery is hard work, and at times it can seem much easier to go back to old ways of thinking, but I encourage you to remember that you are not alone in your journey, and with support and treatment you can live a full and healthy life.

My experience taught me that knowing yourself can be one of the hardest things to figure out.  Who am I?  Where am I going?  What do I want from life?  George Bernard Shaw once said, “People are one of three things: What they think they are, what others think they are and what they really are.”  Recovery, to me, is accepting ourselves for who we really are and knowing and appreciating our unique strengths.

I believe there is hope for everyone affected to recover. This National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, remember that It’s Time to Talk About It. Join the thousands of people across the country doing just one thing to start the conversation in their communities, schools and families. To learn more about the many fun and easy ways that you can be a part of this national movement and to register today, visit the NEDAwareness Week homepage under Programs & Events.

NEDA’s free national Helpline: 800 931-2237

Kathleen Young, Psy.D.

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3 Responses to Men and Eating Disorders

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Men and Eating Disorders | Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Chicago --

  2. Dear Kathleen,

    I thought this was a facinating subject after reading this earlier today –

    I had never really thought about it before, and the media never really seem to cover much about eating disorders effecting us guys.

    Thanks for the informative post 🙂



  3. Anne says:

    Thank you for covering this. The only person I’ve ever known who died from an eating disorder (anorexia) was a man named Liam that I knew in the late 1970s. In those days I had never even heard of anorexia.

    Liam was an amazingly sweet and gentle (looking back too sweet and gentle for his own good) man, a chef in the restaurant where I worked as a waitress as a teenager. At the time his disease was very obvious. I thought that he was very ill – perhaps with cancer. It was only after his death that I heard the truth. Considering that association of this disease with men is so uncommon even now, over 30 years later, I can only imagine the depth of his suffering at the time.

    The comment you made on another post, re: abuse sufferers having no voice, comes very much to mind here. I think his disease was speaking for him – screaming really – but in those days no-one was listening.

    RIP Liam

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