Eating Disorders in Men: An Often Undetected and Untreated Problem

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Eating disorders can often go unrecognized and undiagnosed in men. Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder or disordered eating behaviors are just as prevalent in men as they are in women.

by: Kristin Burmeister

Eating disorders are often mistakenly labeled as a women’s issue. In reality, many men struggle with eating disorders. In fact, subclinical eating disorder symptoms, such as purging, laxative use, fasting, or binge eating, are almost as prevalent in men as they are in women [1]. Additionally, in the United States, 0.1%-0.3% of males have anorexia nervosa (AN), 0.1%-0.5% of males have bulimia nervosa (BN), and 0.9%-2.0% of males have binge eating disorder (BED) [2]. Overall, men make up approximately 25% of individuals with AN and BN and around 36% of individuals BED [1]. Therefore, while the majority of individuals with eating disorders are women there are also many men struggle with eating disorders.

Men with eating disorders tend to have somewhat different body image issues and eating disorder symptoms than women. While the cultural female ‘ideal body type’ is often very slender the male ‘ideal body type’ that is presented in media is heavily focused on muscularity. Therefore, men’s body image issues tend to focus more muscularity rather than slenderness. This correlates to the types of symptoms men tend to have, as men are more likely to have compulsive exercise problems and are more likely to have exercise bulimia, rather than purging bulimia [3]. However, men and women with eating disorders all struggle with core issues related to body image and eating behaviors and are all in need of treatment.

Despite the need for treatment for eating disorders in men often go unrecognized and undiagnosed. Since many individuals, including doctors and parents, view eating disorders as a women’s issue the warning signs of an eating disorder in men often are not recognized. Some of these warning signs may include exercising compulsively, avoiding certain foods, social withdrawal, or body image issues. Furthermore, at times eating disorders in men can be missed by professionals due to bias or a lack of knowledge. Professionals may not ask men questions about their body image or their relationships with food and may not recognize the different ways men may present with an eating disorder leading to a missed diagnosis [4]. Additionally, many eating disorder assessment tools ask questions that pertain more to female issues, such as focusing body image questions on female body parts or asking about a loss of menstruation, leading to a lack of detection and diagnosis.

In addition, male with eating disorders often has trouble receiving treatment. Since women are the majority of eating disorder patients some treatment centers only accept female patients or have difficulty accommodating male patients. In addition, men often struggle greatly in seeking out treatment due to stigma related to viewing eating disorders as a feminine problem. Furthermore, men often find group treatment difficult since the majority of the group is often women. Lastly, men may struggle in treatment due to treatment programs being based on the issues women with eating disorders typically face and may ignore the issues men face, such as variations in body image issues.

Overall, there is a need for increased awareness about eating disorder and men. Being aware that men do suffer from eating disorders and knowing the different ways men can present with eating disorders is important. Furthermore, treatment programs should be aware of the need to change and accommodate their programs to allow men to receive adequate treatment that addresses their issues.

At BALANCE, we are proud to open up our programs to men and offer a group specifically for men to offer a safe and supportive space for men to examine their relationships with body, food, self, and society

References

[1] Statistics & Research on Eating Disorders. (2018, September 14). Retrieved from https://

www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders

[2] National Eating Disorder Association. (2018, February 20). Information by Eating Disorder.

Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/information-eating-disorder  

[3] Eating Disorder Hope. (2018). Eating Disorders in Men is Becoming More Prevalent and

Deadly. Retrieved from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/treatment-for-eating-

disorders/special-issues/men

[4] Males Don't Present Like Females with Eating Disorders. (2018, February 21). Retrieved

from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/males-dont-present-females-eating- disorders


Looking for eating disorder treatment programs or services in the New York City area? Learn more about our options at BALANCE eating disorder treatment center here or contact us here.


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This post was written by BALANCE blog intern Kristin Burmeister.

Kristin is a graduate student studying social work at Case Western Reserve Universtiy. Her own recovery journey inspired her to want to help others who struggle with eating disorders. In the future, she hopes to work as a clinical social worker with a focus on eating disorder treatment.