When most people think of eating disorders, they think of teenage girls hyper-focused on their weight. But eating disorders occur among all ages and genders, including men. Researchers have estimated that men represent roughly 10% of the individuals who are treated for eating disorders.1 However, the percentage of men among people with eating disorders is estimated to be much higher, because eating disorders in men are often overlooked or misdiagnosed by clinicians. One campus study found that the one in three students who had a positive screening for an eating disorder was male. Men also may be less likely to seek treatment for the eating disorder due to the cultural stigma that the disorders only affect women.

The symptoms of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder do not differ between men and women. Like women, men with eating disorders are also at risk for developing depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. In their lifetime, roughly 0.3% of men will experience anorexia, 0.5% will experience bulimia, and 2% will experience binge eating disorder.2 Men make up 40% of people diagnosed with binge eating disorder.3

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Risk Factors

Body image pressure is one of the strongest predictors of an eating disorder in men. The media and society portray the ideal male body as being muscular and toned, and many advertisers for weight-loss and fitness products and programs focus on this ideal. One study found that roughly 90% of teenage boys exercise with the purpose of bulking up.4 Psychological, genetic, and family influences can also play a role.5 Men also may experience increased risk when they are involved in athletic pursuits that require them to monitor and control their weight. These sports can include gymnastics, swimming, dancing, jockeying, wrestling, rowing, running, and bodybuilding. Gay men may also be at increased risk due to the increased pressure to attain a toned body, but some researchers are skeptical on whether there is a risk disparity due to sexual orientation.6

Treatment Options

Men with eating disorders may be less likely to seek treatment due to stigmas against mental health treatment as well as the myth that eating disorders only occur in women. Men may feel uncomfortable participating in a treatment program that is predominantly female, so it’s important to speak to a doctor about the possibility of male-focused treatment. The mortality risk for eating disorders is high among men just as it is with women, so it’s important to seek out treatment as soon as possible. If you’re working with a counselor or mental health professional, ask them if they have experience working with men with eating disorders. Support groups, both in person and online, can play a vital role in recovery for men with eating disorders.

If you’re a man with an eating disorder, it’s also important to talk to your doctor about your physical health as well as your mental health. Men with anorexia are at increased risk for developing bone conditions like osteopenia and osteoporosis and may require testosterone supplement. Men with bulimia may suffer from tooth decay, bowel and esophagus complications, as well as electrolyte imbalances. Men with binge eating disorders may experience higher blood pressure and cholesterol, gallbladder complications, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.7

Talking to a Loved One

If you have a male friend or family member who may have an eating disorder, it’s important to express your concerns about their health. Share with them what behaviors you’ve observed and what worries you. Explain how it hurts you to see them struggling, and praise the positive traits (non-physical) you see in them. Ask them what they would like to do and if they need anyone to help them find help. If you are the parent of a minor, it’s important to engage them in the process and ask what kind of help they’d like.

Eating disorders are treatable, and help is available for men who struggle with one. Whom can you recruit today to help you treat your body with kindness and care?

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Last Updated: Sep 4, 2019