June is National Men’s Health Month, an annual opportunity to raise awareness around preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys. One historically neglected aspect of men’s health is eating disorders.1 Popular narratives around eating disorders suggest that they are predominately experienced by wealthy, thin, White females.2 Despite this misconception, boys and men do experience eating disorders. In fact, about 1 in 3 people struggling with an eating disorder is male.3
Men represent approximately 25% of individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, and 35-40% of those diagnosed with binge eating disorder.3,4 Despite these high rates, men are still far less likely to seek treatment for disordered eating than women.1 As a result, they remain underdiagnosed which suggests that these statistics may not truly represent the prevalence of eating disorders in this population. Even when boys and men receive a formal diagnosis, they face additional stigma for having a “feminine” disorder and being “weak” for seeking psychological help.4 In addition, while research has found that individuals with eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of all individuals with mental health diagnoses, some studies suggest that men with eating disorders have an even higher mortality risk.3,5 These challenges elucidate the importance of increased awareness about the prevalence and symptoms of eating disorders among boys and men.
So, what can we do?
Learn More and Be Aware of the Symptoms. Disordered eating behaviors can present differently in males than other genders. For example, masculine body ideals can lead to men over-exercising, consuming supplements and steroids, and engaging in abnormal eating patterns not seen in most women.3 Visit the National Eating Disorder Association website to begin learning more about signs and symptoms specific to boys and men.
Continue the Conversation. Engage in conversations using your personal experience or information from the latest research to help raise awareness that boys and men can and do experience disordered eating. Creating a safe and comfortable environment to engage in these conversations may help boys and men identify disordered eating in themselves, feel more inclined to seek treatment, and feel less stigmatized.
Seek Help. If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating behaviors, such as binge eating, purging, fasting, laxative or supplement abuse, or over-exercising, seek help from professionals that can meet your individual needs. Visit NEDA to find a treatment provider for you or contact the helpline.
1 – Strother, E., Lemberg, R., Stanford, S. C., & Turberville, D. (2012). Eating disorders in men: underdiagnosed, undertreated, and misunderstood. Eating disorders, 20(5), 346–355. https://doi.org/10.1080/10640266.2012.715512
2 – Halbeisen, G., Brandt, G., & Paslakis, G. (2022). A Plea for Diversity in Eating Disorders Research. Frontiers in psychiatry, 13, 820043. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2022.820043
3 – NEDA. (n.d.). Eating disorders in men & boys. National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved June 24, 2022, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/research-on-males
4 – Collier R. (2013). Gender perceptions on eating disorders slow to change. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne, 185(3), E151–E152. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.109-4360
5 – Raevuori, A., Keski-Rahkonen, A., & Hoek, H. W. (2014). A review of eating disorders in males. Current opinion in psychiatry, 27(6), 426-430.
By Hannah Wolfe
Hannah is a second-year graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill’s MSW program, and this is her first year working in the Living F.R.E.E. Lab.