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Men with eating disorders
by Storyteller. May 2nd 2013, 12:43 AM

Men with eating disorders
By Jenna (.:BreakingBeautifully:.)

It is common knowledge that women are more likely to struggle with eating disorders than men. It is estimated that on any given day, ten million American women struggle with an eating disorder. According to the most recent statistics provided by the National Institute of Mental Health, 4.9% of all American women struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their lives (0.9% with anorexia, 1.5% with bulimia, and 3.5% with binge eating). This does not take into account the percentage of American women who struggle with EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified), or the percentage of women worldwide who struggle with eating disorders.

How do men compare to women? While it is true that only one million American men struggle with an eating disorder on any given day (compared to ten million American women), if you look at lifetime prevalence, you will discover that 2.4% of all American men struggle with an eating disorder (0.3% with anorexia, 0.5% with bulimia, 2% with binge eating disorder). Again, this does not include EDNOS or worldwide prevalence rates. Although American women are still more likely to have an eating disorder, the ratio actually appears to be 2:1 instead of 10:1, as is commonly believed to be the case.

For the most part, there are no big differences between men and women who struggle with eating disorders, as the physical and psychological factors are similar. However, men are more likely to obsess over improving muscle definition than they are about losing weight. In order to acquire the ‘perfect’ muscle definition, men will exercise excessively, focusing on shaping, bodybuilding and weightlifting. It is possible that some will go to the extreme of taking steroids, which can cause many health issues. The fact is that in today’s society, men have a lot of unrealistic images to live up to, just as women do.

Male athletes are susceptible to developing eating disorders in an attempt to improve sports performance or meet their goal weight for the given activity. The Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine reports that 13.5% of all athletes struggle with subclinical or clinical eating disorders. While it isn’t the sport that causes the eating disorder, there is a lot of pressure placed on the athlete to excel, which can cause the person to fall into a downward spiral. Here are some steps that parents and coaches can take to help minimize the chance of an athlete becoming overly obsessed with their diet and exercise routine:
  • Encourage moderation in regards to practice
  • Help the athlete find ways to have fun, even when under pressure to perform well
  • Remind the athlete about the importance of good nutrition
  • Teach the athlete to balance all the activities in their life
  • Do not pressure them to go beyond their abilities
Male college/university students are also susceptible to developing eating disorders, for a number of reasons. In addition to the pressure that comes with joining professional sports teams, many male students may feel they need to compete with their roommates or peers in order to find a romantic partner. This pressure may result in disordered eating, as the desire to be perceived as physically attractive can push even the most educated of men to hurt their bodies. Some male students simply don't know how to eat healthy, balanced diets without their parents' supervision, so the transition from living at home to being more independent can lead to disordered eating. Finally, failing to make time for regular meals in the midst of their studying can lead to disordered eating. Unfortunately, these forms of disordered eating may not be perceived as readily by family members and friends, but there are warning signs loved ones can look out for:
  • Substituting protein shakes/bars for many of their meals
  • Using cigarettes, caffeine, and/or alcohol to curb their appetite
  • Skipping breakfast, lunch, or dinner on a regular basis
  • Eating 1-2 large meals each day vs. regular-sized meals
  • "Grazing" throughout the day vs. eating regular-sized meals
  • "Living on ramen," a.k.a. lacking a healthy, balanced diet
There is very little knowledge about men with eating disorders, and it leaves them feeling even more cut off and ashamed. Most of the research done about eating disorders focuses on women, which can cause men to feel as though they are suffering from a ‘female’ disorder and can leave them feeling less masculine. There are also men who will question their gender identity due to the eating disorder, even though the two are not related, and straight men are just as likely as gay men to suffer from eating disorders.

Men who do decide to get treatment for their eating disorders face a lot of challenges as well, because most treatment plans are geared toward helping women overcome their eating disorders, which increases the stigma of the disorder. In the United States, there are a number of facilities that will not accept men, and the ones that do may have limited availability (as is the case for many facilities). However, there are still ways for men to seek help. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is a well-known organization that can direct men struggling with eating disorders to local support groups, which are generally free to attend. Overeaters Anonymous is a twelve-step program that offers support groups in over 75 countries. Health insurance may cover some services, ranging from individual psychotherapy sessions to residential facilities for more intensive treatment. Men with eating disorders who also struggle with addictions may be able to enter a dual-diagnosis facility, where they can receive treatment for all their existing conditions.

It is important to remember that eating disorders do not discriminate. We need to let go of the beliefs we hold and educate ourselves, so that those who are struggling will be able to see that they are not alone. Secrecy is an eating disorder's greatest asset, and if those who are struggling can let go of their secrets, they can slowly open themselves up to receiving help. The key to opening up is realizing that they will not be judged, but accepted.
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