Though eating disorders are more common in women than in men, recent studies have shown that the percentage of men with eating disorders has increased considerably within the past decade. In fact, some specialists estimate that the percentage of men battling eating disorders is even higher than current research shows, as some men may hesitate to seek treatment or even admit to having a disorder. Many individuals attribute this hesitation to the social stigma that exists regarding male eating disorders.
Though men can be affected by the same disorders as women – such as bulimia, anorexia nervosa, binge eating, and exercise bulimia – symptoms exhibited by a man with an eating disorder often manifest differently than in a woman with the same disorder. For example, women may have an abnormal fear of gaining weight, while men tend to focus more on building muscle or having a low body fat percentage. Due to this difference, many male eating disorders are centered on excessive exercise, the abuse of steroids, and unhealthy dieting plans that may revolve around excelling at sports or a career. It is harder to diagnose an eating disorder in some men, like athletes or military personnel, who are required to maintain a specific body type, as they may not realize that they have an eating disorder. However, similarly to women, men with eating disorders may have a skewed perception of their body image.
Because eating disorders have been linked to other types of mental illness – like depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder – men and women with eating disorders may also have another psychological issue that causes them to self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol. Cyclical behavior regarding eating disorders, such as over-exercising or compulsive eating, often coexists with other addictions because the individual’s mental health is already affected by the habit-forming aspects of the eating disorder. Eating disorders alone can be considered addictions, as they often involve the suffering individual to engage in an activity compulsively, despite any harm done to themselves or others.
Eating disorders in men can be highly destructive, especially when coupled with other addictions or when treatment is not sought by the individual with the disorder. Treatment programs for eating disorders are not as readily available for men as for women, but many centers throughout the United States now offer men-only programs to alleviate some of the social stigma associated with male eating disorders.