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Men & Eating Disorders

Disease has no gender; it picks on men and women alike.

The incidence of women with eating disorders such as Anorexia, Bulimia or Compulsive Overeating is so prevalent that many people believe that eating disorders only affect women. This is a deadly myth. The stigma attached to these disorders may cause millions of men who suffer from eating disorders to remain without support, treatment and recovery. Just as women once rarely acknowledged their alcoholism, men are reluctant to admit they suffer from eating disorders. Part of the hesitancy may stem from the fear of seeking support for a "female problem". Men can and do suffer from Anorexia, Bulimia and Compulsive Overeating. Men are resistant to ask for help for their eating disorder because since childhood they are told to "be in control", "tough it out", and "handle it themselves" without seeking out help. To be unable to control something in life is mistaken as a sign of weakness for men. Men are often not given permission to express their feelings and may turn to eating disordered behavior to cope with uncomfortable feelings.

The under diagnosis of eating disorders in men is not limited to the lay public but unfortunately also includes physicians and other healthcare providers. Physicians are more likely to look for physical causes of weight change before considering an eating disorder as the cause in their male clients. The loss of menstrual cycles in anorexic women, which often alerts professionals to an eating disorder, is not present in anorexic men. Men with eating disorders often experience proportional drops in testosterone and libido that often go undetected. Overeating among men may be less likely to elicit attention and thus bulimia may go unnoticed in men. On average, it takes twice as long to diagnose mens' eating disorders than in women, leaving eating disorder symptoms and behaviors to worsen over time.

Many of the underlying issues that contribute to an eating disorder including low self esteem, depression, feeling of loss of control, abuse, identity concerns, inability to cope with emotions and family communication problems, are the same for both men and women. There are some variations in these eating disordered issues that manifest themselves differently in men. Men with eating disorders for example, are more concerned with body size and shape, whereas women with eating disorders are more concerned with weight. Body image concerns are a strong indication of eating disordered behavior in men. Men with eating disorders usually began developing a negative relationship with their bodies as a result of teasing and taunting by their peers. This teasing and rejection by others becomes internalized and leads to the individual becoming disconnected and ashamed of their own body. Our culture values athleticism and pushes the masculine ideal for boys. Eating disordered men report having had difficulty fitting into the masculine values of competitiveness, aggressiveness, strength, athleticism and independence. Boys who later in life develop eating disorders tend to be more passive, non-athletic, and dependent then their non-eating disordered counterparts. It is common to hear from men, who suffer from eating disorders, the memories of pain and embarrassment regarding having been the last one chosen for athletic teams. The pressure of weight restrictions in certain sports is fostering eating disorders among athletic men as well. These sports include wrestling, gymnastics, swimming, horse racing, running, rowing, and bodybuilding. Among bodybuilders the dangerous use of steroids can cause serious side effects including depression, sexual dysfunction, and other physical disorders.

Adolescence, the period in life where identity is developed and defined, is a particularly difficult time for eating disordered males. The development of an eating disorder for males, may be partially the result of an attempt by the individual to unconsciously deal with gender identity conflicts. Confusion and anxiety about becoming a man and sexuality can be temporarily avoided by the practice of an eating disorder. Some males attempt to deal with their sexual impulses by participating in eating disorder behavior as a way to attempt to regain control over their bodies. Starvation, a practice of Anorexics, can reduce the production of testosterone and subsequently reduce sexual drive for men.

Families also play a role in eating disordered behavior in men. Fathers often relate more with their sons physically then emotionally. Mothers often relate to their daughters through emotions and feelings. Fathers on the other hand, tend to relate to sons through the participation in athletic activities. Mothers will often talk to their daughters about what is going on in their life, whereas fathers are more likely to toss a baseball or football. If a son is not proficient at sports, he may feel he has not only let down his father but has also lost a channel of communication. It is also important to note that many eating disordered men identify more closely with their mothers than with their fathers.

Society is changing its values towards the male body. Societal pressures to obtain the "ideal" body image are no longer gender specific. To attest to this you only have to peruse a magazine rack to notice the proliferation of men's magazines whose focus is on looks, fitness, and nutrition. Only a decade ago you could only find a few magazines dedicated to these issues, now there are over 20. Magazines, television and movies saturate us with images of men with six pack abs and sharply defined pecs. The male body can now be viewed as a sex object and in this new role men are becoming as body obsessed as women. Most men no longer work out at the gym to enhance health and athleticism but rather for aesthetic reasons. Today, men comprise over a quarter of all cosmetic surgery patients. Today's men are willing to endure strenuous workouts, strict diets and even cosmetic surgery to conform to these new images.

Rader Programs understands these issues and can help men recover from these devastating disorders.