The Eating Disorder Landscape is Not Only Populated by Females
While eating disorders may be more prevalent among females, plenty of males are also struggling with these dangerous disorders. In fact, the National Eating Disorders Association reports that while 20 million females are affected by eating disorders at some point in their lives, 10 million men will be as well; a statistic that is not widely known.
Among those suffering from anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, approximately 25% are male. The percentage of males with binge eating disorders is higher, at 36%. The impetus behind what drives men and women to develop disordered eating habits is complex. Generally, factors that can result in an eating disorder may include biological, psychological, and interpersonal aspects.
Anorexia nervosa may result from risk factors such as childhood eating conflicts, struggles around meals, premature birth, feelings of inadequacy, and lack of control. With bulimia and binge eating disorders, a desire to live up to a media-driven portrayal of the perfect body shape and weight often drives obsessive behaviors and a preoccupation with thinness—“thin-ideal internalization.” Although the motive—attaining the “perfect” body—may be the same between the genders, there are distinct differences as to their specific concerns about their bodies.
Male vs. Female Eating Disorder Profiles
Young males are prone to the same insecurities related to their body size and shape as young women are. Males look to muscular celebrities as the ideal of manliness, just as girls seek to emulate stick thin supermodels. Beginning in 2010, men’s fashions became much more fitted, with ads featuring thin and sinewy male models plastered on billboards, magazine covers, and across social media. In recent years, an media focus on buff, pumped up male celebrities touting their six-pack abs has resulted in subconscious messaging for young men to try to attain a similar physique.
Where males may be less concerned with their weight than women, they are concerned with body image. Approximately 43% of men now report being dissatisfied with their bodies, a dramatic increase over the past few decades. Masculinity is often defined in our culture by how lean and muscular a man’s physique is. Males, therefore, may go to extremes to achieve the ideal body, turning to body building supplements, excessive exercise, steroid use, and disordered eating.
When the desire to achieve a muscular build becomes obsessive, it may lead to muscle dysmorphia. Muscle dysmorphia occurs mostly in males, thinking that their already fit bodies are still inadequate, seeing themselves as weaker and smaller than they actually are. This distorted thinking leads them to become consumed with weight lifting and hyper-vigilant about their diets to an unhealthy extent.
Social Media Fuels Eating Disorders
In the past, even just a decade ago, male teens and adults did not have the daily barrage of exposure to images of celebrities, models, and social pressures that has come with the advent of social media. Now, with men accessing multiple social media platforms on any given day, they are exposed to the hurtful comments and slurs directed towards both famous and everyday people about their looks or physiques. Again, this messaging sinks in, causing a sense of inadequacy and insecurity about their own bodies. It is as common nowadays for men to be sexually objectified as women, exacerbating the pressures they feel to fit the ideal image of what is perceived to be desirable.
Even among one’s peer group, many of those Instagram and Facebook photos have been doctored with Photoshop editing tools (even a “thinify” feature) and flattering filters, offering up a fraudulent image that subsequently becomes someone’s unattainable goal. Both females and males participate in the practice of photo editing their selfies and pics, in a quest to portray themselves in their best light, even if it isn’t authentic. So this becomes an unending dysfunctional pattern across social media, setting in motion the unrealistic images which can lead to negative self-talk, consumption of supplements or diet aids, and disordered eating habits.
Symptoms of a Male Eating Disorder
There are definite signs that point to an eating disorder. They include:
- You exercise excessively. If you miss a workout you experience anxiety and guilt
- You are compulsive about caloric intake, as well as sugar and fat content in foods
- You use body building supplements or weight loss pills
- You alternate between overeating and fasting
- You engage in ritualistic eating behaviors, hiding food, eating alone
- You feel depressed
- You devote so much time to working out that you neglect family and responsibilities
- You may experience muscle dysmorphia
- You become isolated and withdrawn
- You work out even with injuries
We Can Help
Because of the stigma attached to eating disorders, and combined with the erroneous notion that eating disorders are female-only issues, young men may not seek help for this serious medical condition. If you or your loved one is displaying the symptoms of an eating disorder, it is time for professional help. At Casa Serena our compassionate professionals can provide an assessment and customized treatment plan tailored just for you. Call us today (925) 682-8252!