How to Identify Eating Disorders in Men

How to Identify Eating Disorders in Men
By Jenny Hudson
An estimated 10 per cent of people diagnosed with eating disorders are men, although this figure may under-estimate the real number of men affected. This is because eating disorders in men can be particularly difficult to identify and diagnose. The men themselves often find it hard to acknowledge that they have what may be perceived as a 'female disorder'. Equally, sudden weight loss may be masked by physical causes, such as training for a sporting event and therefore at first appearing to be 'healthy' and based around exercise. There is often less of a preoccupation with losing weight, but more of a focus upon having a muscular physique and meeting training goals.

Evidence suggests that men are coming under greater pressure than ever before to conform to an impossible body image - including skinny male models in the fashion industry to athletic sporting icons. Studies have shown increasing numbers of men feel dissatisfied with their own bodies and this dissatisfaction and anxiety can develop in boys as young as just ten years old.

Eating disorders in men share many of the same causal factors as for women. Like for women, anorexia or bulimia in a man is a way of expressing difficult and painful feelings which the individual cannot cope with. These disorders always have a variety of causes and every individual will have their own unique set of causal factors. In men, there is a link between being teased or bullied at school for being overweight and the subsequent development of an eating problem. Childhood trauma, stressful family events, low self-esteem and pressure to succeed can all be factors. Research suggests, like for women, there may be a genetic link which means certain individuals respond differently to food denial and this can help fuel an eating disorder.

One of the key signs of anorexia in women is the cessation of periods. Clearly this does not apply to men, although men with eating disorders are likely to experience lack of sexual desire and erectile dysfunction. Studies show there is a proportionally greater risk for individuals who take part in sport which demands a particularly slim body type, such as jockeys and athletes. Male models, actors and people in the entertainment industry also face a greater risk and this is linked to the greater importance of body image in their field of work. Male eating disorders also manifest in a greater proportion of gay men, compared with the male population as a whole. Twenty per cent of men with anorexia or bulimia are gay, which is twice the proportion of gay men in the overall population.

Eating disorders in men typically develop between the age of 14 and 25 but people can also be affected at other ages. In common with eating disorders more generally, it is very important that the condition is identified as early as possible and appropriate treatment found before the eating disorder becomes increasingly entrenched and resistant to change.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jenny Hudson is an experienced health journalist, whose articles are regularly published in national newspapers and magazines. For more information about eating disorders in men plus the signs to look out for, visit Newbridge House.
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