Nine characteristics of eating disorders in men

Eating disorders have been regarded, both by the public as well as much of the medical profession, as problems affecting only girls and young women, but this is inaccurate, and today we look at the male side of eating disorders.

The 3 main types of disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Persons with anorexia nervosa have an obsession with remaining thin; in extreme cases sufferers can starve themselves to death. Bulimia nervosa involves periods of binge eating followed by purging, either through vomiting or excessive exercise. These individuals may be normal weight or even overweight, as are those with binge-eating disorder, who massively overeat at times, but without purging.

Aspects of the male side of eating disorders include:

1) High incidence

Studies show 10 to 25% of cases of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa occur in males, and up to 40% of binge eating cases. The incidence of all types in men is increasing.

2) High risk

This disease has “the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric conditions in adolescence”. Extreme weight loss can cause bones to thin, skin and hair to age rapidly, and eventually the heart and other organs will fail.

3) Reluctant to recognize

Because it is so commonly thought that eating disorders are a disease of girls, the sufferers themselves are very slow to recognize that they are affected, and usually they only seek medical care very late. They may feel lots of guilt and shame due to their problem, which delays their seeking care. They typically do not want to discuss the topic with anyone.

4) Delay in diagnosis

A study published April 2014 in British Medical Journal Open, showed that many medical professionals have the same misconception, and are, unfortunately, often slow and reluctant to recognize these diseases in men, delaying their treatment.

5) Exercise obsession

Different than most women, men and adolescent boys with an eating disorder may spend hours a day at the gym and/or doing aerobic exercise. They often obsess on goals such as “six-pack abs” and very low body fat. The condition may start when they are trying to lose weight for a certain sport, or for the military.

6) Associated psychological issues

Chronic anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, excessive perfectionism, depression, and substance abuse are more common in men with eating disorders.

7) Higher risk in gay men

While controversial, most studies indicate that gay men run a higher risk, perhaps because they may have higher expectations about their physical appearance; more compelled to develop the perfect, fat-free body.

8) Often normal weight

Women are more likely to obsess about thinness while men are more likely to obsess about perfect muscles. Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorders in men.

9) Good treatment response

Typically after years of symptoms, when they are finally diagnosed, men respond well to treatment, perhaps even faster than women. Main modes of treatment include talk therapy, sometimes medications, and nutritional counseling and support. With appropriate treatment, the outlook is good, and the sooner the individual seeks help, the better.

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