Men and Eating Disorders (September 2022)
About 30 million Americans of all ages, genders, body shapes and sizes struggle with eating disorders. Over the last several years—especially with the pandemic—eating disorders have been on the rise. While eating disorders are generally underreported and undertreated, this is particularly true with males. This article will share the similarities and differences that men and boys face when it comes to how they are affected by our society’s diet culture messages.
As I share in my book The Eating Disorder Trap, anorexia nervosa is what comes to mind when people think of eating disorders. It is the third most common chronic disease among young people ages 15 to 24, with 0.3-0.4 percent of young cisgender women and 0.1 percent of cisgender men are suffering from it at any given time. According to the journal Biological Psychiatry, an estimated 1.5 percent of cisgender women and 0.5 percent of cisgender men will struggle with bulimia nervosa during their lifetime. It is also estimated that 3.5 percent of cisgender women and 2 percent of cisgender men will develop binge eating disorder. A few other important facts:
- Cisgender men have a higher rate of mortality from eating disorders than cisgender women.
- Individuals who identify as transgender experience eating disorders at rates significantly higher than cisgender individuals.
- While people of color have similar rates of eating disorders, they are significantly less like to receive help for the eating issues.
Because screen time has increased during the pandemic, the glorification of fit male physiques on social media and in the entertainment industry has had more of an impact. “Bigorexia,” the preoccupation with muscle and body shape and size and strict adherence to a diet designed for weight loss and muscle gain, has been on the rise among males. This form of disordered eating includes rigid food rules, compulsive exercise and/or lifting heavier weights with the hopes of a more muscular physique. One-third of teen boys in the United States want to gain weight with the hopes they will increase their muscle mass. One-quarter of young men also report taking supplements, steroids, or eating more to bulk up.
What price will an individual pay to achieve this muscular physique? Having an eating disorder is a very isolating and lonely disease. It not only causes someone to become fixated on what they will and will not eat, but also when they will eat and how they can increase their exercise to compensate for eating something not on their plan—either a specific food or a larger quantity of food.
Although males struggle with body image the way females do, support tends to be geared more for females. That’s why it’s important that clinicians and programs use language that males can relate to and programming that is inclusive and supportive of what they are struggling with.
I hope this article will help providers and non-providers understand that males can be very sensitive about discussing their body. Providers may want to re-evaluate the screening questions they use when seeing clients, and consider including questions related to how the pandemic has impacted clients’ relationships to food, their bodies, movement, and thoughts about themselves.
- The Eating Disorder Trap, Goldberg, Robyn, Booklogix March 2020.
- Hudson et al., “Prevalence and correlates of eating disorders.”
- “Statistics & Research on Eating Disorders, “ National Eating Disorders Association, accessed December 20, 2019, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders.
- Nagata et al., “Boys, Bulk, and Body Ideals: Sex Differences in Weight Gain Attempts Among Adolescents in the United States” J Adolesc Health. 2019 Apr; 64(4): 450–453
- J. Nagata et al., “Predictors of Muscularity Oriented Disordered Eating Behaviors in U.S. Young Adults: A Prospective Cohort Study”, International Journal of Eating Disorders 2019 Dec; 52(12): 1380–1388.
- A. Hawgood., “What is Bigorexia?”, New York Times, March 5, 2022.