Regardless of gender, eating disorders can be difficult to recognize, and it is often not easy for a person to realize that they should seek support. Misconceptions and stigma associated with eating disorders are often barriers to recognition and treatment of disordered eating or an eating disorder. Despite the common myth that only young women are prone to eating disorders, the National Eating Disorders Association estimates that “one in three people struggling with an eating disorder is male, and subclinical eating disordered behaviors (including binge eating, purging, laxative abuse, and fasting for weight loss) are nearly as common among men as they are among women.”
Because eating disorders are often associated with women, it is common for men to feel stigma around disordered eating or an eating disorder. This can make it difficult for men to seek help, as they may feel that they will be judged or misunderstood by others. Particular to those who identify as male/men and boys, the way our culture views masculinity can play a role in the development of poor body image, disordered eating behaviors, or an eating disorder. These expectations are pervasive, and it is important to recognize that these cultural and social expectations around masculinity are not necessarily healthy or realistic, and that everyone’s body is different.
Eating disorders can present differently across all genders, and the symptoms of an eating disorder may vary from person to person. Some common ways that eating disorders may present differently in men include:
- Different disordered eating patterns: Men may find themselves focused on food choices or diets focused on maximizing their well-being or strength. For example, some men may feel pressure to have a muscular or lean physique and may engage in behaviors such as excessive exercise or restrictive eating in order to achieve this and may be more likely to engage in behaviors such as binge eating, rather than more common behaviors such as a generalized restricting of food intake or purging.
- Different body image concerns: Men may be more likely to focus on building muscle mass and becoming lean, rather than being concerned with losing weight or being thin.
- Different social and cultural influences: Men may be influenced by cultural or social expectations around masculinity and body image, which can contribute to disordered eating patterns. These expectations may include the belief that men should be strong, muscular, and physically fit, and that any deviations from these norms are unacceptable.
- Different physical symptoms: Men with eating disorders may experience different physical symptoms, such as changes in muscle mass or changes in testosterone levels. Additional common physical symptoms associated with disordered eating include, but not limited to, weight loss or gain, changes in muscle mass (including muscle loss or muscle wasting), change in libido, and reduced mood and energy levels.
If you are struggling with your relationship with food and appearance, and are worried about the stigma around seeking therapy, it may be helpful to talk to a trusted friend or family member about your concerns. You can also reach out to a mental health professional for support and guidance. Therapy can help address the underlying causes of an eating disorder and provide support and guidance for recovery.
Interested in learning more?
Learn more about eating disorders in men and boys: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/research-on-males
Signs and symptoms of EDs: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/warning-signs-and-symptoms