While eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating disorder have historically been thought to be “women’s disorders”, over one million men are suffering from these afflictions in relative silence. My guess is that many more men and boys are struggling every day with an eating disorder than the numbers report. With stereotypes looming about women feeling pressure to live up to societal beauty standards and using food to cope with stress, trauma, and anxiety, men who experience the very same struggles may be left isolated, feeling shameful and confused. With the increased numbers of eating disorders around the United States, one positive aspect is illuminated: more education, advocacy, and support is beginning to become available for men struggling with eating disorders.
Beginning March 29th, a new and open support group is starting at the Eating Disorder Foundation. Running every Thursday from 5:30-7pm, this group is sponsored by the National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders (ANAD) and is FREE and open to men who are struggling with any type of disordered eating or body image struggles. Facilitators Kate Daigle, MA, NCC and Clinton Nunnally, MA, LPC, are hopeful that this new group will open doors for men to find support in recovery from eating disorders.
What is different about eating disorders in men and women? Not a whole lot. In a clip I found produced in Britain to shed light on National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, one of the men talks about how criteria for anorexia nervosa includes amenorrhea (the loss of a female’s monthly cycle) and that he sees this as a gender bias against men who may be dealing with the same disorder. You can view the clip here:
According to the online eating disorder recovery site Something Fishy,
“The most common element surrounding ALL Eating Disorders, including Eating Disorders in Males, is the inherent presence of a low self esteem”.
Men are dealt with pressure to live up to standards, ideals, and stereotypes, just as women are. The image of the strong, muscular male underwear model or the skinny, fashionable hipster affect the way that men perceive themselves. They may be influenced by “what women want” in a mate and conform themselves to fit the desired ideal. In addition, men are supposed to be “the strong, stoic, protector” — one who doesn’t show or admit to emotions — based on Western standards, and this can create a great deal of pressure to fit all expected roles. Men, just as women, can control food in order to try to cope with feelings, or can feel out of control with food as a way of expressing underlying struggles.
We still have a ways to go to understanding how we can best support men in their recovery from eating disorders. I think the first step is admonishing the shame that is often attached to eating disorders. Shame is released by expressing it, addressing it, and letting it go. Here are additional resources for men struggling with eating disorders and for their families and loved ones:
Men With Eating Disorders Often Overlooked (a Talk of the Nation special audio report)
Men Get Eating Disorders Too (a non-profit to raise awareness about EDs in men)
I am hopeful that with these resources and with research to come, that men will not feel so alone or shameful about struggling with an eating disorder and that they might break the silence and search for treatment. If you know of any males who might benefit from the free support group please contact Kate Daigle at (720) 340-1443 or the Eating Disorder Foundation.