How Eating Disorders Affect Males

When most people think about eating disorders, they tend to think about how they affect girls and women.  However, it is estimated that 10% of all reported eating disorders affect the male population.  I believe that those numbers are low since males tend to report less and do not ask for the help they deserve.  Like females, men can be seduced by the media’s portrayal of the perfect body image.   Where women tend to want to shrink their body size, men tend to want to build up.  What does a “real man” look like?  My 7 year old son was looking at a “health advertisement” on TV recently and asked me after viewing a “ripped core muscle” photo, how the man in the commercial “got all those bumps on his stomach”.  Even a second grader can tell that muscle building is not natural!  But there may come a time where he will believe that he is supposed to look like that, no matter what it takes. Binge Eating Disorders in Males:  Binge eating disorder (compulsive overeating, emotional eating) is a severe, life threatening disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of compulsive overeating or binge eating.  In binge eating disorder, the purging to prevent weight gain that is characteristic of bulimia nervosa is not present.

Men who have Binge Eating Disorder may have:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating
  • A sense of lack of control over eating during binge episodes
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
  • Hording food
  • Eating in secret and or hiding food
  • Feelings of disgust, guilt, or depression during and after overeating
  • Use binging to relieve feelings of anxiety, depression, or tension

Men who have a Binge Eating Disorder may have difficulty talking about their feelings, and avoids conflicts.  They may have feelings of worthlessness, depression, moodiness and irritability.  They may have problems with heart and blood pressure, sugar levels, joint problems or low energy.

Bulimia Nervosa in Males:  Bulimia nervosa is a severe, life threatening eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by self -induced vomiting or other purging methods (e.g., laxatives, diuretics, excessive exercise, fasting) to prevent weight gain.  A male who is struggling with Bulimia is afraid of gaining weight and exhibits persistent dissatisfaction with is body and appearance, as well as a significant distortion n the perception of the size or shape of his body.  Males who need to “make weight” for sports can succumb to bulimia.

Men who have Bulimia Nervosa may have:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating
  • Recurrent purging or compensatory behavior to prevent weight gain: secretive self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, excessive exercise, body building, weight lifting, or running.
  • A preoccupation with weighing himself
  • A preoccupation with how his body relates to his athletic interest
  • Disgust with body shape or size
  • An intense fear of becoming “fat” or gaining too much weight
  • Difficulty expressing feelings
  • Feelings of worthlessness- using weight and appearance as a measure of worth
  • All or nothing thinking

Men who suffer from bulimia will go through weight fluctuations, loss of dental enamel due to vomiting, edema (fluid retention), constipation, swollen salivary glands, esophageal tears, gastric ruptures, and cardiac arrhythmia.

Anorexia Nervosa in Males:  Anorexia is a severe, life threatening disorder in which he individual refuses to maintain a minimally normal body weight, is intensely afraid of gaining weight, and exhibits a significant distortion in the perception of the shape or size of his body as well as dissatisfaction.

Men who suffer from Anorexia may have:

  • An excessive restricted diet
  • Food rituals
  • Preoccupation with body building, weight lifting, or muscle toning
  • Compulsive exercise
  • Difficulty eating with others or lying about eating
  • Preoccupation with food and weighing self
  • Body distortion and disgust with self-image

Men who struggle with anorexia have an intense fear of gaining weight.  They may suffer from depression, rigid thinking, social isolation, decreased interest or fears of sex, perfectionistic thinking, irritability, denial.  He believes others are overreacting to his low weight or caloric restrictions.  He may have low body weight, lack of energy, decreased balance, low body temperature, thinning hair, lanugo (downy growth of body hair) and low testosterone levels.

Eating disorders for males and females are complicated conditions that can arise from a variety of potential causes.  Once started, however, they can create a self-perpetuating cycle of physical and emotional distress.  All eating disorders require professional help.  Please continue to check back with the blog to read about what to do if you suspect or have an eating disorder.

*Adapted from National Eating Disorder Association materials

Written by Alexa Griffith, LMHC, LCAC, NCC, RPT

Alexa Griffith, LMHC, LCAC, NCC, RPT  is a licensed therapist and Registered Play Therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. Alexa enjoys doing marriage counseling, individual counseling, couples and relationship counseling. Alexa also does play therapyfamily counseling, child counseling, and adolescent counseling. Imagine Hope serves the Indianapolis area, including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Zionsville, and Westfield