Most movies, articles and discussion about eating disorders focus on women, but the number of men suffering from anorexia (aka manorexia), bulimia and muscle dysmorphia is growing. Male eating disorders are becoming a silent epidemic with most treatments – like the attention – focused on women.
During National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, public health experts want to increase awareness about male eating disorders. They want to debunk the myth that men do not suffer from eating-related problems.
In the U.S., an estimated 10 million men (as well as 20 million women) will suffer from a significant eating disorder in their life. That includes binge eating, bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa or other serious, potentially life-threatening condition. Experts point out that men, driven by media images like young women, are beginning to go down the road of overvaluing physical appearance, which then results in their self-esteem becoming more dependent on body image.
In spite of the two-to-one ratio of women versus men suffering from eating disorders, only 10 percent of those who seek professional assistance to deal with their eating disorders are male. Men are less likely to admit they have a problem and seek help. It is considered to be harder for men to come forward, because eating disorders are perceived to be a female illness. As a result, there is often a double kind of stigma for men.
In the United Kingdom, the numbers of males struggling with eating disorders has grown exponentially as a silent epidemic. An estimated 320,000 men were suffering so bad that they were admitted to a hospital last year. That is a 63 percent increase in eating disorder hospitalizations over the last five years.
Each type of eating disorder can be a complex, devastating condition that could lead to serious consequences with long-term impacts on the person’s health, productivity and relationships with both loved ones and friends. An eating disorder may start innocently enough as a fad or lifestyle choice, but spirals out of control to become a coping mechanism to deal with deeper issues. The disorder eventually affects the sufferer’s emotional and physical health. In addition, many of the men suffering from eating disorders also suffer from mental health conditions like depression and bipolar disorder. In fact, by some estimates, 37 percent of men who have binge disorders suffer from depression.
Just like for women, athletic activities or professions that call for weight restrictions (e.g., gymnastics, diving, swimming, wrestling and track) put male participants at risk for developing an eating disorder. For example, male wrestlers have a higher rate of eating disorders than the male population at large.
Another male population with a high rate of eating disorders are gay males. They comprise an estimate 5 percent of the general population, but 42 percent of males with eating disorders identify themselves as gay.
Male muscularity in media (all those shirtless hunks in movies and television shows) is having as much of a negative impact as female images with thigh gaps. This goes far beyond traditional made ideals to try and achieve a better body image through bodybuilding, lifting weights and muscle toning. The social norms for men have evolved to waved and buffed bods that emphasize strength, athleticism and a perfect BMI (body mass index).
Public health experts are hoping creating greater awareness of the silent epidemic of male eating disorders will propel more to seek help. It is a matter of life or death as eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness as up to 20 percent of those affected on average die.
By Dyanne Weiss