Men With Eating Disorders

A Paper On Analysis

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Eating disorders are one of the largest problems in the mental health world. For the most part woman have been the focus of studies and treatments for this illness. However, men suffer from Eating Disorders as well and they are severely under represented when it comes to treatment and research. This paper discusses what eating disorders are and how they affect men. Discussion is focused on signs, symptoms, causes, and treatment options now available to men suffering with Eating Disorders.

Men With Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are very serious conditions. Many people suffer from these disorders yet the majority of the focus falls on women. Most research, treatments, and overall information are targeted towards woman and it is therefore considered by many a woman’s disease. Because of this, the focus of this paper will fall upon men who suffer from eating disorders. With the seriousness of this issue, this writer feels it is warranted to shed light upon this under represented population.

What are Eating Disorders?
“An eating disorder is an illness that causes serious disturbances to your everyday diet, such as eating extremely small amounts of food or severely overeating.”(U.S Department of Health and Human Services, 2011). These types of illnesses have both physical and psychological affects. “Severe distress or concern about body weight or shape may also characterize an eating disorder.” (U.S Department of Health and Human Services, 2011). Once the concern over body image takes hold the physical symptoms can begin to manifest at an alarming rate.
There are 2 main classifications of eating disorders. The first one is anorexia. People with this type of Eating Disorders are thin to the point of emaciation, pursue any avenue of getting thinner and refusal to maintain a weight anywhere near to their ideal, fear gaining any amount of weight and limit their food intake severely. Psychologically, an anorexic person does not see how thin they are. They are in denial about their body weight and have an extremely distorted body image. “Many people with anorexia nervosa see themselves as overweight, even when they are clearly underweight. Eating, food, and weight control become obsessions.” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011). For the anorexic person there is an obsession with weight gain with them typically weighing themselves on a daily basis. They will use any means necessary to keep their weight down including but not limited to self induced vomiting, diet pills, and self enemas.

The next type of eating disorder is Bulimia. “Bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over these episodes.” (U.S Department of Health and Human Services, 2011). Often, these episodes of eating are followed by extreme guilt for what they see as an unhealthy indulgence that will make them fat. Just as with the anorexic, this is linked to distorted body image. To “make up” for their overeating the bulimic will turn to self induced vomiting, over indulgence in exercise, or going on a fast to make up for what they already ate in hopes of reversing the effect of the caloric intake. The main difference between anorexia and bulimia is that the bulimic is typically close to their ideal body weight and sometime even over their ideal body weight, adding to their need to lose weight. Another difference is the ability to hide their illness. The bulimic carries out their behavior in secret. Many times it is unknown that there is a problem until it is out of control. The anorexic’s problem is much more apparent due to the obvious weight loss and the fact that they cannot hide the fact that they monitor their food intake so severely. Whatever the differences, both illnesses are equally serious and the number one psychological symptom is a distorted body image.

Eating Disorders: Men vs. Women
The female population has a much higher rate of Eating Disorders. This may be due to the fact that woman tend to be more consumed by body image due to what society defines as beautiful. It may also be that women are more likely to come forward for help with an Eating Disorders then men are, leaving the statistics unbalanced. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, INC. (2011), between 10 and 15% of men suffer from one of the major eating disorders and that the numbers are most likely higher as men are less likely to seek treatment due to the perception that Eating Disorders is a woman’s illness. The male gender wants to be strong and self efficient and admitting to an eating disorder is a blow to their ego. How does this compare to women? The 2010 statistics in the United States “indicate that 10 million American women suffer from eating disorders.”(Mirasol, 2010). The State of SC, conducting the same statistics research found the numbers to be a little lower but not by much. “The South Carolina Department of Mental Health estimates that 8 million Americans (seven million women and one million men) have an eating disorder.” (Mirasol, 2010). By looking at the South Carolina findings it is even more so clear that the men who have come forward to be counted as someone who suffers from an Eating Disorders are significantly lower than their female counterparts. No matter what gender suffers from Eating Disorders the chance of meeting a fatal end is highly possible. “Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, as high as 20%. Death can occur after severe bingeing in bulimia nervosa as well.” (Eating Disorders Coalition, 2007)

Causes for Eating Disorders in Men
It is apparent, in most cases, what causes a woman to begin the destructive behavior of an eating disorder but what of the men who suffer from Eating Disorders? “Males were more likely than females to claim that if they were fit and exercised regularly, they felt good about their bodies. Women were more concerned with aspects of their appearance, particularly weight.”(Shiltz, 2005). So, if men are more likely to feel good about their bodies if they simply exercise regularly what reasons do they have to fall prey to Eating Disorders? One reason cited is that Eating Disorders for men can be an occupational hazard. In the world of sports there is much pressure to keep a certain body weight, especially in sports such as gymnastics, wrestling, and swimming. “It is important to note, however, that weight loss in an attempt to improve athletic success differs from an eating disorder when the central psychopathology is absent.”(Shiltz, 2005). However, sometimes in the world of the jock the psychopathology does worm its way in and thus the eating disorder is born.

Other reasons that effect the development of Eating Disorders in men include sexual attitudes and endocrine dysfunctions. “Males with anorexia display a considerable degree of anxiety with regard to sexual activities and relationships. Fichter and Daser (1987) compared males and females with anorexia and found that males displayed significantly more sexual anxieties than did females.”(Shiltz, 2005). Research has shown that males who suffer from Eating Disorders had not had much sexual experiences prior to the onset of the illness while women were more likely to have had several sexual experiences. This is because for a woman with poor body image and self-esteem sex can be something that they use to boost their egos. Men on the other hand are more worried about their sexual abilities when they suffer from a distorted body image. Research has also shown that men suffering from Eating Disorders “may have a persisting or preexisting problems in testosterone production” (Shiltz, 2005). A man’s personality style also affects the chance they have as developing Eating Disorders. “men with eating disorders tend to have dependent, avoidant, and passive-aggressive personality styles, and to have experienced negative reactions to their bodies from their peers while growing up. They tend to be closer to their mothers than their fathers.” (Shiltz, 2005).

Symptoms of Eating Disorders in Men
Many of the symptoms of Eating Disorders are the same in both genders, however, the research used for this paper found through The Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center puts strong focus on the following symptoms being characteristic of male Eating Disorders suffers. Samplings of symptoms for men with anorexia are food rituals, preoccupation/obsession with food, depression, isolation, anxiety about sexual relations, loneliness, low self-esteem, tiredness, and muscle weakness. Symptoms for men with bulimia include repeated binge eating, hiding or hoarding food, weight fluctuations, depression, fatigue, perfectionism, and dental problems. Again, these symptoms can be for either gender but appear to be more specific to men with Eating Disorders.

Treatment for Men With Eating Disorders
The treatments for men with an eating disorder are not much different than the treatment for women. However, if the case is severe enough to warrant inpatient treatment it can be difficult for the man with Eating Disorders to get help. “Because male eating disorders have only recently received attention, many treatment centers don’t have separate services that treat men.” (Tartakovsky, 2011)This can defiantly be a hurdle for a man with Eating Disorders as it is already embarrassing to need treatment for what so many still consider to be a condition that woman suffers from. Though there are now a few treatment centers that specialize in men with Eating Disorders this may not be a viable option as travel and treatment expenses may be unmanageable. For advanced cases of Eating Disorders, treatment can cost upwards of $100,000 per month. Not many people can afford this and not all insurance plans cover treatment for Eating Disorders. There are other options available however. “Depending on the severity of his illness, an eating disorder specialist could treat a man with individual and group psychotherapy. However, for some men inpatient treatment may be necessary. Many metabolic processes become disrupted from anorexia and bulimia, and can create life-threatening emergencies.” (Riggins-Hume, 2000). Another option is joining a support group. Talking with and connecting with other men who are suffering from Eating Disorders can be a beneficial experience. “Men can recover from eating disorders, but it is a long process. Relapse is common, and impulses to restrict eating or over exercise can be lifelong. Overeaters Anonymous and Anorexia/Bulimia Anonymous can offer support to supplement treatment.” (Riggins-Hume, 2000). However, this should not be the only area of help as there are more serious issues at hand that can only be treated, and hopefully cured, by a professional.

There are many things a professional can offer a man with Eating Disorders. Cognitive Behavior Therapy can help the client to recognize behavior patterns and replace them with healthier behaviors. Family therapy can also be beneficial. Having the family of the client understand the illness and be on board with love and support can help the client feel more comfortable in talking about his problem and feel accepted in spite of it. In addition to traditional counseling methods, anyone who suffers from Eating Disorders should also get involved with a nutritionist. “Nutritional Counseling focuses on health rather than weight. A nutritionist or dietician can help those with eating disorders to understand adequate nutritional needs and to change eating behaviors.”(Eating Disorders, 2006). This type of counselor goes over good nutritional choices and may suggest keeping a food diary to monitor progress and help recognize triggers. Eating Disorders cannot be overcome without help. Using one or more of these treatment options increases the chances of the client’s successful recovery.


Eating disorders in men are becoming a growing concern. Historically, eating disorders are something that women suffered from. However, in today’s society it is being coming increasingly difficult for men to met the standards of what they are “supposed” to look like. This is just one of many triggers found to result in men developing an eating disorder. The symptoms for men and women are quite similar yet the effects and causes differ in many ways. For women it is more body image and control while for men it is sexual issues and pressure to be fit as they possibly can. This determination for physical fitness is one thing that can lead to a man developing and eating disorder. Treatment options vary widely from inpatient care to group therapy. Someone suffering from Eating Disorders should consult with a medical professional in order to determine what type of treatment is best for them as when it comes to treatments for eating disorders, one size does not fit all. Recovery is possible and getting the needed help increases the client’s change of meeting their goals of becoming a healthier and happier person.


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Tartakovsky, M. (2011, August 3). Eating disorders in men. Psych Central, Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The National Institute of Mental Health. (2011). Eating disorders (11-4901). NIMH. Retrieved from

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