While eating disorders are often portrayed as illnesses that only affect females, large population studies suggest that up to a quarter of people suffering with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are male, and almost an equal number of males and females suffer with binge eating disorder. We also know that under-diagnosis and cultural stigma mean that the actual proportion of males with eating disorders could be much higher.
Eating disorders can develop at any age. But males (and also females) are most vulnerable, or at risk, for anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa in their teenage years and early twenties. And binge eating disorder is more prevalent in a person in their mid-twenties.
Unhappy with your body?
Men can be very unhappy with their bodies too. The actual rates of body dissatisfaction in males are approaching the same number of that of females. However, for males body dissatisfaction is more commonly manifested in a lean and muscular body, rather than a lower body weight.
Especially male athletes have a vulnerability to eating disorders, particularly those in sports with a greater emphasis on weight classes and aesthetic ideals such as weight lifters, wrestlers, gymnasts, dancers, jockeys and body builders. But also Ski Jumpers are vulnerable for developing an eatnig disorder, because when they eigh less the jump farther. You can state that the eating disorder is "supporting" their prestige and achievement.
For some males, heightened concerns about muscularity may become part of an eating disorder, characterised by distorted perceptions about muscle bulk, and /or distorted eating and exercise patterns.
There are many factors that contribute to develop an eating disorder, and they can be complex. In general, there are is a genetic vulnerability. People must be sensitive to develop it. And there are the psychological factors and socio-cultural influences.
What are the risks for males to get an eating disorder?
The risk factors for eating disorders are perfectionism, bullying, dieting, trauma, childhood obesity. The risk factors apply both to females and males.
Males are also are exposed to unique cultural messages that can increase their vulnerability towards developing an eating disorder. These include:
- The ideal body shape for men is protrayed in media platforms as a lean and muscular
- Males feel he need to be in control. We have grown up with the idea that males ‘take charge’ and have to be ‘in control’. When coping with particular issues beyond their control, people can displace these emotions (anxiety) onto their bodies, manifesting in control over the body through excessive exercise and dieting. Some deal with is constructively and others choose food or alcohol and/or drugs.
- Eating disorders and other mental illnesses. Especially men feel a desire not to appear weak or vulnerable. This has led to a stigma around mental illness that has delayed treatment and support for many males (and females) with eating disorders.