Most of the research on eating disorders is center around females. This focus is likely due to the fact that eating disorders are more common in females than in males. To bridge the gap in our understanding of men with eating disorders researchers sought to investigate the difference between men with eating disorders and women with eating disorders (Strother et al., 2012).
Eating disorders are characterized as a persistent disturbance of eating or eating-related behavior that results in the altered consumption of food and significantly impairs physical health or psychosocial functioning (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p.329). Although eating disorders are more common in women, they affect the lives of both genders different ways. Similar to women with eating disorders, men also tend to have a body image disturbances. Women’s development of eating disorder mainly stems from a desire to be thin while men with eating disorders aspire to gain muscles and bulk up motivated by family history illness such as diabetes or heart attacks, specific sport weight requirements, and media pressures.
Contrary to women, men are generally expected to be bigger in weight than women, they also face expectations to be more muscular and lean (Leit et al., 2001). To uphold this expectation, men with eating disorders tend to indulge in excessive exercising. This activity can seem as an addiction or a compensatory behavior. Compensatory behaviors in eating disorders are designed to counteract the effects of eating to avoid weight gain or to relieve guilt associated with certain eating behaviors (Stiles-Shields et al., 2012). Exercise can become compensatory behavior when use to monitor caloric intake seen in people with anorexia nervosa, who tend to restrict food intake leading to considerably low body weight. It’s also a compensatory behavior when used to prevent potential heredity health illnesses association with weight such as diabetes and obesity. Although family history of health concerns can contribute to men development of eating disorders, participation in athletic activities is another influencer. Men are found to be more motivated to lose or gain weight based on their involvement in sports such as wrestling, football, and track. Combined with media pressure to obtain a muscular athletic body, there is an increase in male body dissatisfaction.
To advance the discussion on men with eating disorders there must be a change in society acceptance of male vulnerability. Oversimplified definition of masculine is a direct contributor to lack of knowledge on men with mental disorders. Due to fear, shame, and embarrassment, most cases of eating disorders and other mental illness in men go unreported. Once this unrealistic expectation of men to be “strong” and hide their emotions is demolished, maybe there can be a better understanding of men with eating disorders.
Strother, E., Lemberg, R., Stanford, S. C., & Turberville, D. (2012). Eating disorders in men: underdiagnosed, undertreated, and misunderstood. Eating disorders, 20(5), 346-355.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.
Leit, R. A., Pope, H. G., & Gray, J. J. (2001). Cultural expectations of muscularity in men: The evolution of Playgirl centerfolds. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 29(1), 90-93.
Colleen Stiles‐Shields, E., Labuschagne, Z., Goldschmidt, A. B., Doyle, A. C., & Grange, D. L. (2012). The use of multiple methods of compensatory behaviors as an indicator of eating disorder severity in treatment‐seeking youth. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 45(5), 704-710.
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