Sex and the Sun: Eating disorders affect men as well as women

Written by: Amanda L. Abad, a perspective / Editor In Chief

05/16/2013

Here’s the skinny—Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents.

No longer just the scourge of women, eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating are on the rise in the male community.

“One-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives,” according to a study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD).

Boys as young as 10 years old are being diagnosed with eating disorders. Many are falling victim to today’s societal obsession with being thin and the overbearing emphasis to eat healthier. Increased cultural and media pressure on men to have the ideal physique contribute to the increased numbers of males suffering from anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. Boys with eating disorders also show the same types of behavioral, physical and emotional signs and symptoms as girls, according to the National Institutes of Health. As with any disorder, it is important to catch the symptoms early.

Today’s increased focus on childhood obesity is also a factor of boys suffering from eating disorders. In schools, children are being told to limit their fat intake and to change their diets, instead of being educated on how to lead healthier lives.

With more men acknowledging their eating disorder, treatment can still be hard to find. Most of the research on eating disorders has focused on the female population—a factor that causes many of the males to feel like less of a man and become more ashamed of their habits, which in turn can cause them to become sicker than their female counterparts and harder to treat.
Once considered a female-only issue, research has shown that “10 to 15 percent of those who suffer from anorexia or bulimia are male,” according to a study published in the Canadian Medial Association Journal. The numbers are higher for men in the gay community, with 14 percent of gay men suffering from bulimia and more than 20 percent suffering from anorexia, according to ANAD.

Women often start with dieting and move to exercise, however, “men start with excessive exercising and then move to extreme dieting,” according to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre in Canada.

In the United States, at least one million males are battling an eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. “One in four people suffering from anorexia or bulimia are male,” according to a study by Dr. James Hudson in 2007.

Patients and doctors may not realize that they need to treat an eating disorder, therefore making treatment difficult. Because of the assumption that eating disorders are feminine problems, men who are suffering from anorexia, bulimia or binge eating are too ashamed to find help causing the eating disorder to become more reinforced into their daily thinking due to prolonged behavior. Also, the fact that there are not many support groups or eating disorder facilities in every county for males suffering from anorexia and bulimia make it hard for men to get help.