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Males and Eating Disorders
Approximately 7-10 million women across the country suffer from eating disorders. However, as many as a million men may also struggle with the diseases and the numbers are growing! Approximately 10% of eating disordered individuals coming to the attention of mental health professionals today are male. There is a broad consensus, however, that eating disorders in males are clinically similar to, if not indistinguishable from, eating disorders in females. Male gymnasts, runners, body builders, rowers, wrestlers, jockeys, dancers, and swimmers are particularly vulnerable to eating disorders because their sports necessitate weight restriction. It is important to note, however, that weight loss in an attempt to improve athletic success differs from an eating disorder when the central psychopathology (i.e., depression, rituals, obsessions, compulsions, behaviors) is absent.
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What eating disorders do men and boys get?
Just like girls and women, boys and men get anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Many males describe themselves as compulsive eaters, and they may have binge eating disorder. There is no evidence to suggest that eating disorders in males are atypical or somehow different from the eating disorders experienced by females.
Anorexia Nervosa in Males: Anorexia is a life-threatening disorder that is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. Symptoms include:
Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by a highly secretive cycle of binge eating followed by purging. Bulimia includes eating large amounts of food (more than most people would eat in a meal) in a short period, then getting rid of the food and calories through vomiting, excessive exercise, or laxative abuse. Symptoms include:
Compulsive Overeating is characterized by periods of uncontrolled, impulsive or continuous eating beyond the point of feeling full. While there is no purging, there may be fasts or repetitive diet attempts. Often there are feelings of shame and self-hatred after a binge. Symptoms include:
Other eating disorders may include some combination of signs and symptoms of anorexia, bulimia, and/or compulsive overeating. These behaviors may not meet the clinical criteria of an "eating disorder"; however, they can still be extremely dangerous physically and psychologically. All forms of eating disorders require professional help.
How many males have eating disorders?
The numbers seem to be increasing. Twenty years ago it was thought that for every 10-15 women with anorexia or bulimia, there was one man. Today researchers find that for every four females with anorexia, there is one male, and for every 8-11 females with bulimia, there is one male. (American Journal of Psychiatry 2001. 158-570). Binge eating disorder seems to occur almost equally in males and females, although males are not as likely to feel guilty or anxious after a binge as women are sure to do.
Clinics and counselors see many more females than males, but that may be because males are reluctant to confess having what has become known as a "teenage girls' problem." Also, health professionals do not expect to see eating disorders in males and may therefore under-diagnose them.
Risk factors for males include the following
Just like women, men are becoming more and more exposed to the “perfect” male body image portrayed in the media and feeling the pressure for the weight loss diets and pills, protein powders, exercise regimes all promising the hard body and “six-pack abs”.
Treatment of males with eating disorders
It is important to remember that eating disorders in males, as well as in females, can be treated, and people of both genders do recover. Almost always, however, professional help is required. If you are concerned about yourself, find a physician and mental health therapist who will be sympathetic to the male perspective. The sooner treatment is begun, the sooner the person can turn the problem around and begin building a happy, satisfying life. The longer symptoms are ignored or denied, the harder that work will be when it is finally undertaken.
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