Men's Health

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Eating Disorders in Men & Boys: Signs & Treatment

Eating disorders are presumed to be female-dominant, though males also experience them. Find out statistics, signs, and treatment options for eating disorders in boys and men.

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Eating disorders are serious and sometimes fatal conditions that cause severe disturbances to a person's eating behaviors. Obsessions with food, body weight, and shape may signal an eating disorder.

While eating disorders are presumed to be female-dominant, males also experience them. What's more, eating disorders in men may be more dangerous relative to the general likelihood of not receiving proper care.

Find out statistics, signs, and treatment options for eating disorders in boys and men.

Eating Disorders in Boys & Men

Eating disorders come in many forms. However, most common eating disorders include binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, and, less common but very serious, anorexia nervosa.

The forms of eating disorders are not gender-specific and can occur in both females and males. The National Association for Males with Eating Disorders highlight the statistics of eating disorders in males:

• Twenty-five to 40 percent of people with eating disorders are males.

• As many men as women want to change their weigh

• Men engage in eating-disordered behaviors nearly as often as women.

• Eating disorders assessment tests underscore males.

• The prevalence of eating disorders in males is greater than estimated. This is because men are often too stigmatized to seek treatment for "women's problems."

• Despite popular beliefs, eating disorders have never been "women's diseases." Professionals in the field are realizing this fact more and more.

• Media objectification and sexualization of males is just as rampant as for females.

• A high percentage of comorbid conditions exist for males in treatment. These often include excessive exercise, poor body image, and sexuality issues.

• Attention to gender dynamics is critical in the process of treatment.

How to Tell if a Man Has an Eating Disorder

Identifying males with eating disorders can take many shapes. Noticing male eating disorder signs and symptoms can depend on the type of eating disorder, too.

Risk Factors & Trends

Research in Eating Disorders suggests a number of areas to consider when examining gender-specific issues in men. These risk factors and trends can help flag an eating disorder:

• Weight history: Men who struggled with childhood obesity have shown to be more susceptible to an eating disorder. This differs from women who tended to feel fat before pursuing compensatory behaviors. Men likewise are often motivated to gain and lose weight based on athletics.

• Sexual abuse: About 30 percent of eating disordered patients had a history of sexual abuse. Bullying can also disturb a healthy body image.

• Gender orientation: Concern over body shape and weight are prevalent among homosexual males. Symptoms related to eating disorder issues show to increase 10 times more with gay and bisexual men than with heterosexual men. Added stress and confusion regarding sexual orientation may transpire into disordered eating patterns.

• Depression and shame: Men with eating disorders often experience depression and shame. Unfortunately, depression in men is often hidden and underreported.

• Exercise and body image: A frequent behavior among eating disordered men is excessive exercise. This can become "addictive" and is sometimes referred to as Anorexia Athleticism. Some men use exercise as a compensatory behavior for caloric intake, while others exercise for weight loss to promote better health.

• Comorbid chemical dependency: Those with substance abuse tend to be more likely to have an eating disorder. Men may also turn to substances to control weight.

• Media pressures: Seeking the "ideal body" portrayed in the media can lead to disordered eating patterns. The current muscular ideal of the male body is also becoming less and less realistic and attainable.

In addition to more specific male eating disorder signs and symptoms, various mental health patterns can signal an eating disorder. These may include:

• Stress

• Boredom

• Anger

• Fear

• Anxiety

• Loneliness

If experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical attention right away. And if hesitant to reach out for help, confide in someone you trust to support you through taking the necessary steps.

Men themselves are less likely to seek out treatment, which is likely related to the social stigma of eating disorders. But going without treatment can be extremely dangerous, as the risk of mortality for males is greater than females.

So if noticing these patterns in a loved one, address them and do not let them go under the radar. However, it is equally as important to acknowledge them as sympathetically and non-judgmentally as possible.

Finding proper care is essential for lowering the risks of an eating disorder, including osteoporosis, heart disease, and low testosterone. Treatment for long-term disordered eating patterns can also be lifesaving!

Treatment for Eating Disorders

First and foremost, it is important to seek out professional help for treating eating disorders. They can help devise a treatment plan, which may include various levels of care from a treatment team.

Treatment is also not a one-size-fits-all, meaning programs and options are custom to each person. However, most programs offer and include:

• In and outpatient services: Inpatient stabilization and outpatient treatment needs vary case-by-case. However, having such options makes treatment more custom to personal needs.

• A healthcare team: Several healthcare professionals likely form a team to address mental and physical health concerns. Physicians, psychiatrists, dietitians, and counselors are commonly staffed.

• Evaluation and treatment of medical issues: Medical issues are often present with an eating disorder. A physician is likely to evaluate and treat health concerns, including dehydration and hypotension.

• Evidence-based treatment: Treatment options are numerous, including one-on-one, group, and family therapies. Learning different psychotherapies, including meditation and emotional regulation, is common as well. But these approaches likely have one thing in common: That they are evidence-based and follow best practices.

• Medications: There are a number of known medications that may also be used to treat eating disorders. For instance, Vyvanse and Topamax may be effective in reducing binge eating patterns. Using antidepressant and antianxiety medication may also be helpful.

All-in-all, though, inquire about these services to help overcome an eating disorder. And if a loved one is displaying risks and signs, assist in taking the necessary steps for eating disorder treatment.

Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on September 05, 2019. Updated on September 13, 2019.

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