Anorexia: Not “Just” a Women’s Health Problem
Approximately one percent of American women suffer from anorexia nervosa in their lifetime — but what about men? Eating disorders are often thought of as a women’s health problem, but in reality, they can affect anyone at any time.
The pressure to look a certain way spares no one — but the pressure to appear macho prevents many men from seeking help from this perceived “women’s health problem.” About one in three patients suffering from an eating disorder is male, yet men may be less likely to seek treatment, especially in a predominately female treatment environment.
Still, it’s important to recognize that anorexia is not “just” a women’s issue. This life-threatening eating disorder affects men, too — and studies show that it may even be more fatal in male patients. Here’s how to recognize the signs of anorexia nervosa, how it affects men and how inpatient treatment can help men heal from the pain of this disorder.
What is Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa refers to a dangerous eating disorder characterized by severe restriction of caloric intake and significant weight loss.
Patients with anorexia nervosa experience disturbance of body image that leads them to view themselves as larger than they actually are. This dysmorphia drives anorexia patients to relentlessly pursue weight loss.
Even when they have already lost significant amounts of weight, patients with anorexia continue to feel like they must lose more. If left untreated, they will continue to lose weight until they are severely underweight, even to the point where the weight loss becomes life-threatening.
Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia
Anorexia nervosa affects men, women and non-binary folk alike; it does not discriminate by gender or gender identity. However, this eating disorder does affect people of different genders differently. Men exhibit slightly different signs and symptoms than women — which, because we stereotype eating disorders as a female problem, makes it more difficult to spot these disorders in men.
According to MaleVoicED, a charity dedicated to men with eating disorders, here are some of the signs and symptoms that a man in your life could be suffering from anorexia nervosa. While many signs are the same for all eating disorder sufferers, some are specific to men.
Watch out for these signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa in men
- Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat
- Refusal to maintain body weight within a healthy range
- Body image disturbance
- Denial of the seriousness of their condition
- Severe food restriction and/or excessive exercise
- Preoccupation with food
- Perfectionism, self-deprecation, need for approval and/or inflexibility
- Restlessness and/or anxiety; diminished concentration
- Weakness and/or fatigue
Who Gets Anorexia Nervosa?
As we mentioned previously, no one is immune from the pressures to maintain the “perfect” body weight or appearance — meaning no one is immune from developing unhealthy coping behaviors, or a full-fledged eating disorder.
However, some people may be more likely to develop an eating disorder than others, due to risk factors or environmental stressors. For example, because more women than men develop eating disorders, gender can be considered a risk factor for an eating disorder.
Still, some people may confuse risk factors with a guarantee that you can or cannot develop an eating disorder. Just because eating disorders are more common in women does not mean that men do not get them — hence the reason for this blog post!
Risk Factors for Anorexia
Even though we are all susceptible to the pressures of unrealistic beauty standards, eating disorders develop in some people but not others. So, why is that?
Some people possess risk factors that make them more likely to develop an eating disorder than others. Below, we talk about a few of these risk factors in greater detail — and particularly how they affect men.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, here are some important risk factors to know about when it comes to anorexia nervosa:
- Mental health history. Having a close relative with an eating disorder, or any mental health condition for that matter makes a person more likely to develop an eating disorder themselves. A personal history of an anxiety disorder can also predispose a person to develop an eating disorder. Since the lifetime prevalence rate of anxiety in men is 20 percent, it’s no wonder, then, that a proportion of men will also develop eating disorders.
- History of dieting. A history of weight-control methods, including dieting, is associated with the development of eating disorders — and so is negative energy balance, or burning off more calories than you consume. Reasons men may find themselves in negative energy balance include dieting, growth spurts, illness and athletic training.
- Weight stigma. Cultural ideals espoused in the media and other sources tell us that the best bodies meet certain standards. For men, the ideal body is often expected to be muscular and lean — which explains why, despite the stereotype that eating disorders are a “woman’s problem,” 90 percent of teen boys have exercised with the goal of “bulking up” and gaining muscle.
- Trauma or bullying. 60 percent of people who developed an eating disorder said that bullying based on weight or appearance contributed to their mental health issues. However, trauma takes other forms besides bullying: one example includes intergenerational trauma, such as that experienced by Jewish Holocaust survivors and Native American populations that survived Western colonization.
Famous Men with Anorexia
Don’t believe that men can develop anorexia nervosa in the same way that women do? A number of famous men have opened up to suffering from anorexia and other eating disorders, according to a recent article in The Guardian. Some examples include:
- Christopher Eccleston, an actor famous for playing The Doctor in long-running Britsh science fiction show Doctor Who, recently admitted to a lifelong history of body dysmorphia and anorexia nervosa.
- Robert Pattison, the leading man behind the hit Twilight series, has opened up about his history of anxiety and body dysmorphia.
- Kit Harington, who played Jon Snow on the television show Game of Thrones, has spoken out about the toll of chasing the perfect physique. After the show ended earlier this year, he spent time in a mental health facility recovering from the pressures of fame.
- James McVey, guitarist with the Vamps, has spoken out publicly about his “negative relationship with food.”
Where Men Can Seek Help for Anorexia
As a man with anorexia nervosa, the prospect of seeking professional health can become even more difficult and complex than it already is.
As Dr. Christian Buckland, a psychologist and psychiatrist, told The Guardian, “Because eating disorders are still often seen as a women’s issue men do struggle with the idea that they might be the only guy in the room.” For this reason, Dr. Buckland says men are often reluctant to seek treatment and experience high drop-out rates once they join a treatment program.
Still, it’s essential that anyone suffering from anorexia nervosa seeks treatment immediately since this disorder can be dangerous and even life-threatening. When gone untreated, the consequences of an eating disorder may include electrolyte imbalance, heart arrhythmia and even death. Hence, it’s imperative that anyone exhibiting signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa seeks treatment immediately.
Here are some of the resources men can pursue to learn more about eating disorders and receive treatment (or help a loved one find treatment) for these serious conditions.
Inpatient Treatment for Anorexia
One of the best modes of treatment for anorexia nervosa (and other eating disorders) is inpatient treatment at a qualified hospital or treatment facility. These treatment programs provide 24/hour care from doctors, nurses and other mental health professionals to ensure the person in treatment stays safe without relapsing.
Treatment programs also offer individualized care, so you or your loved one can receive treatment that addresses their unique issues — including those specific to males with eating disorders. This allows for better, more comprehensive care than they might receive in another type of treatment.
Men may worry about taking part in inpatient treatment, especially since most people who seek care for eating disorders are women. However, there are special treatment centers and programs designed especially for men with eating disorders, allowing them to be surrounded by others like them and understand that they are not alone in their struggle with food and body image.
Components of Inpatient Treatment for Anorexia
Inpatient treatment for anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders includes the same types of therapy used to treat other conditions, but it also includes special components designed to address the common issues that contribute to eating disorders.
Eating disorder-specific therapy includes support for nutrition and meals. A person in treatment for an eating disorder will take part in medical nutrition therapy with a registered dietician to ensure they are gaining weight appropriately and overcoming their fear of food and weight gain. They will also take part in therapy to help them improve their body image all the while, making inpatient treatment a strong option for men with anorexia nervosa.
Online Resources for Men with Anorexia
Men with anorexia nervosa may find it difficult to obtain resources for education and treatment, especially given the stereotypes about anorexia being a “women’s problem.” These resources are geared especially towards men, so you or your loved one can get the help and support they need to recover from their eating disorder in a way that addresses their specific needs as a man.
Earlier this year, the National Eating Disorders Association merged with the National Association for Males with Eating Disorders to unite the eating disorder recovery field. Their hotline, blog and website provide helpful resources and personal stories of recovery for men and women alike.
MaleVoicED is a U.K. charity that specifically caters to men with eating disorders. On their website, they have resources for education and treatment of eating disorders written specially for male audiences.
In a book that is equal parts memoir and self-help, Andrew Walen shows how he, as a survivor and therapist, overcame emotional eating and helps other men with eating disorders find recovery. You can purchase his book on Amazon or request it at your local library.
If you are a man struggling with your body image and worried about whether or not you can get help for your eating disorder, you have options. You have The Meadowglade. We’re open 24/7 and we’re open for tours. We offer free consultations to help potential clients discover how we can help them. Contact us today so we can help!