Approximately 10 percent of individuals with anorexia or bulimia, and an estimated 40 percent of those with binge eating disorder, are male.
Eating disorders-anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS)–are serious, complex illnesses that often strike during adolescence or young adulthood. Some mental health professionals believe the percentages of males with eating disorders are increasing. In addition, excessive muscle building, purging, steroid misuse, and other behaviors that are unhealthy but do not reach the level of “disorder” may be on the rise among males.
Due to a lack of data, it has not been feasible to track the frequency of male anorexia over the past few decades, but [one research article estimates that] up to 25 percent of men now suffer from an eating disorder.
Stigma has severely limited the amount of federal research in the area of male eating disorders (no one seems to want to spend a lot of money on it); stigma has also discouraged male sufferers from seeking treatment and participating in the promising studies that do finally get off the ground. Many men and boys feel ashamed of the behaviors that accompany their eating disorders–they often perceive eating disorders as “female illnesses”–and so they frequently choose to struggle with their condition alone rather than risk being judged or ridiculed.
Books such as The Adonis Complex and Making Weight have been instrumental in starting public conversations about male eating disorders, and it is no longer unusual for newspapers or magazines to publish articles about the trials and tribulations of male eating disorder sufferers. Billy Bob Thornton, along with other high-profile men who’ve had eating disorders, have also come forward to tell their stories.
People need to know, though, that while clinicians are seeing more males with eating disorders than they did 15 years ago, this doesn’t necessarily indicate a rise in the number of men and boys affected by eating disorders; what it may actually mean is that eating disorders are increasingly on the radar screens of educators, health professionals, athletic coaches, and parents. Continued attention to early detection and treatment holds the promise of improved health for the many boys and men who suffer from these painful illnesses every year.
David Herzog, MD, one of the nation’s foremost experts on eating disorders, has dedicated his career to understanding anorexia and bulimia nervosa, illnesses that affect the lives of millions of women and men and that have the highest mortality rate of any family of psychiatric disorders. He is founder and director of the Harris Center for Education and Advocacy in Eating Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital, and is a significant public voice on how we can heal those suffering from the physical, psychological, and emotional consequences of disordered eating. The above was excerpted from an article that first appeared at ChildMind.org. Visit the website to view the full piece, and for more advice from Dr. Herzog and other experts.