Eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening mental illnesses. While eating disorders are often portrayed as illnesses that only affect females, this simply isn’t the case.
It’s estimated that eight to 10 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder, and around 10 percent of those are men. However, the number is thought to be much higher, as many men are afraid to come forward due to the stigma around men and eating disorders.
Eating disorders can develop at any age, but males and females are at risk for anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa in their late teens/early twenties, while binge eating disorder is more prevalent in a person in their mid-twenties.
Male Eating Disorder Statistics
Prevalence figures for males with eating disorders are somewhat elusive. Additional research is needed, but there have been several studies that provide insight into the male experience of eating disorders:
- In the United States, 10 million men will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life.
- A study of 2,822 students on a large university campus found that 3.6 percent of males had positive screens for eating disorders. The female to male ratio was 3:1.
- Subclinical eating disordered behaviors – including binge eating, purging, laxative abuse and fasting for weight loss – are nearly as common among males as they are among females.
- Men with eating disorders often suffer from conditions such as depression, excessive exercise, substance disorders and anxiety.
Male Eating Disorder Symptoms
Being aware of eating disorders and acting on the symptoms can have a strong influence on the severity and duration of the disease. However, due to the nature of eating disorders, the warning signs may be discreet.
There are physical, psychological and behavioral symptoms that can signal the presence of an eating disorder in a male or female. But here are some of the most common male eating disorder symptoms:
- Preoccupation with body building, weight lifting or muscle toning
- Exercising when sick or injured
- Lowered testosterone
- Anxiety/stress over missing workouts
- Muscular weakness
- Decreased interest in sex, or fears around sex
- Using anabolic steroids
- Preoccupation with food
- Refusal to maintain a body weight at or above the norm for age, height body type and activity level
- Need for control
- Low self-esteem
- Depression, isolation or loneliness
Risk Factors For Males
Many of the common risk factors for eating disorders apply to both males and females, such as perfectionism, bullying, dieting, trauma and childhood obesity. However, there are many sociocultural influences that play a role in the development of eating disorders in males.
Males are exposed to unique cultural messages that often increase their vulnerability towards developing eating disorders. These risk factors include the ideas that:
- Males should only have one body type (lean and muscular).
- Having a “perfect body” means experiencing success in areas such as dating, getting a good job and social desirability.
- Males need to be in control.
- Eating disorders and other mental illnesses are not masculine.
Other risk factors for men developing an eating disorder include:
- Having an occupation that demands a leaner body, such as long-distance runners, dancers, gymnasts, models or jockeys
- Being a perfectionist by nature
- Having a family history of an eating disorder or even obesity
- Having parents with unrealistic expectations or who stress fitness to an unhealthy degree
- Having experienced a traumatic event such as sexual or emotional abuse
Recovery From Male Eating Disorder Symptoms
It is possible for males to recover from eating disorders. Studies have shown that the sooner someone starts treatment, the shorter the recovery process. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for males to go untreated for longer and receive less care than females.
Typically, males only seek treatment or receive a correct medical diagnosis when the symptoms are severe. The stigma associated with suffering from a “female disease” also contributes to a delay in seeking help.
If you suspect that you or someone you know, male or female, is suffering from an eating disorder, it’s important to seek help immediately. Contact the Orlando Recovery Center today.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.