Some people believe that only females suffer from eating disorders. Statistics reported by the National Eating Disorders Association (2005), however, show that males account for 10 percent of all eating disorder cases. Due to this common misconception:
- Eating disorders are frequently misdiagnosed in males (i.e. diagnosis of depression rather than difficulty with male body image).
- Male eating disorders are more difficult to detect.
- Males are less likely to come forward and seek treatment.
As a result, researchers believe that the prevalence of male eating disorders may be much higher than suggested by current eating disorder statistics.
Female vs. Male Eating Disorders
Male eating disorders are clinically similar to eating disorders in females–both sexes exhibit similar behavioral, physical and psychological symptoms. Both groups also have a distorted sense of body image. While most females want to lose weight, however, males often want to “bulk up” in order to match the muscular, V-shaped male body image idolized by the media. Males may engage in excessive bodybuilding and weightlifting to build muscle. They may also use steroids and other potentially dangerous substances.
Male Eating Disorders: Risk Factors
Eating disorder statistics show that sexual orientation may affect a male’s risk of male eating disorders. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry (1997) found that 42 percent of males with bulimia identified themselves as homosexual or bisexual. Homosexual men may place a higher value on physical appearance and male body image than their heterosexual counterparts.
Asexuality (no sexual attraction to either sex) was present in 58 percent of cases of anorexia in males. Some researchers have found that anorexia in males may be associated with lower levels of testosterone production.
Male athletes are another at-risk group for eating disorders. This is particularly true of sports that have different weight classes, such as wrestling. Male athletes may limit food intake or abuse laxatives to reduce their weight, allowing them to be more competitive in a lower weight class. This risk of engaging in weight-control behaviors is even greater at higher professional sports levels.
Treatment for Male Eating Disorders
Because eating disorders are often considered a “female problem,” many men with eating disorders are ashamed and don’t seek medical help. Unfortunately, men who do come forth don’t always find this treatment entirely beneficial. For example, a male may not feel comfortable participating in an all-female counseling group. For this reason, individualized or male-specific treatment may be more effective at treating male eating disorders.
Carlat, D. J., Camargo, C. A. & Herzog, D. B. (1997). “Eating Disorders in Males: A Report on 135 Patients.” American Journal of Psychiatry, 154(8), 1127-1132. Retrieved August 3, 2010, from, http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/reprint/154/8/1127
Michigan State University (2008). Testosterone could guard against eating disorders. Retrieved August 4, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080303164518.htm
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders. (2010). Males and eating disorders. Retrieved August 3, 2010, from http://www.anad.org/get-information/males-eating-disorders/
National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Eating disorders. Retrieved August 3, 2010, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/complete-index.shtml#pub7
Shiltz, T. (2005). Males and eating disorders: Research. Retrieved August 3, 2010, from http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/nedaDir/files/documents/handouts/MalesRes.pdf
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. (2003). Food for thought: Substance abuse and eating disorders. Retrieved August 3, 2010, from http://www.casacolumbia.org/articlefiles/380-Food%20for%20Thought.pdf