When we hear the word anorexia, most of us will picture a severely underweight young woman in our mind’s eye. However, this is just a stereotype! Men get eating disorders too even though we see more images of female anorexia and hear more PSA’s about eating disorders targeted towards women. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that male anorexia exists too, and that it’s just as serious!
Male anorexia just doesn’t have the same level of recognition as female anorexia. This is unfair in more ways than one. Men feel less able to speak up, more afraid of embarrassment, and more alone than women facing eating disorders. Additionally, this lack of awareness can make loved ones less likely to recognize symptoms of anorexia developing in men.
Since most of the information available on anorexia speaks to a female audience, we wanted to focus on the male audience instead. Here at Intervention.com, we’ve collected this list of 5 things that might surprise you about male anorexia.
Quick Review of Male Anorexia
Anorexia is an eating disorder centered around becoming and staying thin. Anorexic individuals have an intense fear of gaining weight, and will severely restrict their food intake. This eating disorder has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.
An anonymous young man, using the pseudonym Craig, has provided some personal insight into what it’s like to experience an eating disorder as a man. Here Craig comments on the severe impact of male anorexia:
I’ve been unable to attend college, or university, or even do simple things on a day to day basis like going into a shop because it’s created such a heightened anxiety and depression. Not to mention, worst of all, I have weak bones, a continuous bad back, and I feel like I’m sixty years old at the age of twenty six
Men of any age can develop eating disorders, although the typical age of onset is between 14 and 25 years. The signs and symptoms yo should look for if you suspect male anorexia include:
- Rapid, sudden weight loss.
- Obsession with calories and fat content.
- Avoiding situations that involve food – skipping dinner, turning down what’s offered.
- Preoccupation with building muscle tone, weight lifting, and improving body shape.
- Distorting body size and weight. The person might say and believe he is fat even when he is visibly very underweight.
- Social isolation and negative, erratic mood.
- Hair loss
- Muscle weakness
- Fatigue and lethargy, always feeling tired.
5 Things that might Surprise you about Male Anorexia
1. It’s more common than you think.
It’s true that a majority of the people battling anorexia are women and girls, but male anorexia makes up a significant portion. Based on statistical studies, experts think that about one quarter of all anorexic individuals are men.
2. Impossible body standards affect men just like they affect women.
Skinny people dominate the silver screen. The imagery we see every day in the media sends the message that you have to be thin to be attractive. The photo editing, pressure to lose weight, and heavy makeup are more apparent with female models and actresses. Lately, males in the spotlight have been under increasing pressure to look “perfect” as well. Craig commented: I would look at cover models on magazines and aspire to look like these, despite the fact that these images were airbrushed and unrealistic.
3. Sadly, many men never get treatment.
When it comes to men and eating disorders, there are multiple factors pushing men away from treatment. A study published in the UK reported that only about 10% of inpatients for eating disorder treatment are men. However, we know that the portion of male anorexics is actually closer to 25%. This discrepancy might have to do with lack of awareness, shame, and fear of being less masculine.
Craig explains why he waited so long to seek treatment:
I had no idea this was an illness, let alone an eating disorder. I didn’t think men could get eating disorders – it was a girls thing right? For a while, I was in denial about it and refused to acknowledge I was putting my health at risk.
4. Certain sports might contribute to male anorexia.
Sports that require or tend to favor a skinny physique can contribute to the development of eating disorders. Swimming for example requires a lean body, which can put a lot of pressure on athletes to diet and lose weight. Scientists estimate that 1/3 of all athletes in aesthetic sports, like body-building, gymnastics, and swimming, are affected by an eating disorder like anorexia. Men and women are both affected by sports, but those more often associated with male anorexia are:
5. Gay and bisexual men are more at risk then straight men.
Eating disorders affect LGBTQ men more often than straight men. Experts believe this difference is related to the fact that LGBTQ men are judged physically (sexually) in the same way that women are. In other words, queer men and women both suffer from the critical male gaze.
Additionally, queer men and boys experience greater stress and mistreatment in life due to prejudice. Craig commented on his experience of growing up queer:
“My story begins in secondary school where my classmates severely bullied me. I was a bit geeky and teased for it, but the bullying soon took a homophobic turn. Also, I was effeminate in my appearance and when my voice broke, it went squeaky so my classmates assumed that I was gay. I didn’t know what this word meant as it was always used in a derogatory way. All I knew was that it was an insult, a swearword even. Hardly a day wouldn’t go by where I would get called names like ‘batty boy’ and ‘queer’ whether it be in class, in the corridors or in the school yard.”
If male anorexia is taking over your life or affecting someone you love, reach out to us at intervention.com. We can connect you with the best treatment to get you back on your feet.