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How Eating Disorders Differ in Men

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Eating disorders primarily affect women. Known as the “teenage white girl’s disease” by some, ED is actually very prevalent outside of the Western world and can affect people of both genders, at any age, and of any race. A Harvard study estimates that up to 25% of all eating disorder cases are in men.

Men exhibit different symptoms of eating disorders than women do. Girls tend to focus strictly on weight loss, whereas men typically strive for muscle tone and low body fat. Many male bodybuiders and athletes suffer from eating disorders, and they restrict their diet to be in a different weight class or to be more competitive.

Some men may experience a fear of fat (known as Manorexics), while others become obsessive about bulking up a specific part of their body (usually their chest and arms). These men may strive to maintain a low body fat percentage and become obsessive with excelling at a sport. In extreme cases, this may lead to steroid use and excessive exercise, a form of bulimia.

The traditional compensatory behaviors displayed by women with eating disorders, such as vomiting or abusing laxatives, are not shared by most men. Men are much more likely to exercise compulsively to burn off more calories than they eat.

The causes of eating disorders may be similar in both genders. The media seems to play a huge role. Women are constantly confronted with images of unrealistic thin women in magazines, movies, and other media outlets. Men are also feeling the pressure for physical perfection, for the media is full of images of unattainable muscular physiques, perfect muscle tones, bulging biceps, and not a trace of body fat. Unlike women, who have always strived to be thin, men have a variety of body shapes to strive for. Many agree that “thin is in”, but others believe that “bigger is better” and strive to change specific parts of their bodies.

While eating disorders are more prevalent in homosexual and bisexual men, many heterosexual men feel pressured to lose weight to excel at work or at a specific sport. In addition, there is a bigger stigma for men to receive help than for women. Also, many clinics focus strictly on women and don’t offer services to male patients.

For help finding a treatment program for men, click here.