For a long time now, there have been certain social and cultural issues that we have traditionally associated with women. Men are often left out of these conversations. Abuse is one of them. Surprisingly, eating disorders are another. Did you know that teenage boys and young men are just as prone to eating disorders as their female counterparts?
In men, the manifestation of an eating disorder is slightly different from women, because men are trying to gain weight and become more muscular as opposed to women who want to lose weight. Their drive is toward getting a healthy six-pack, building biceps, or looking bulkier in general. Here are some common signs, symptoms, and causes of eating disorders in men.1
1. Men Eat Very Little
Quite contrary to the goal of building muscles, some men may feel that eating less and working out more can give them the physique they desire. As a result, they often resort to quantities and a quality of food that does not support their natural metabolic state.2
2. Men May Become Anorexic
For a long time now, it has been believed that anorexia can be a result of metabolic changes that occur only in women. However, some men also feel the pressure to be thin, especially if they have been bullied for being fat in their teenage years. The important thing for us to note is that they may otherwise be fit and healthy, but they feel like they need to slim down even further.3 This psychological aspect is what characterizes anorexia in men.
3. Men Can Also Have Reverse Anorexia
As opposed to men who want to look even thinner and starve themselves, another group of men suffer from reverse anorexia. This is a condition in which they perceive themselves as not being bulky and muscular enough, so they resort to intense exercise and even steroids to bulk up. This is dangerous, because steroids can become addictive and also lead to other problems with drug usage.4
4. Men Reject Or Undermine Themselves
To others, you may be a perfectly healthy individual. But to yourself, you might feel you’re worth despising. Eating disorders are, more often than not, an expression of an underlying belief about oneself, much like self-harm. In eating lesser, or more to the point of gluttony, people reject themselves the way they are right now.5 Investigating the “why” is very important. Abuse, bullying, trauma, and disorders of the brain can all cause such results. By treating the underlying cause, the eating disorder may be alleviated.
5. Men’s Sexual Orientation Plays A Role
Culturally, men from the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community still continue to feel isolated and ostracized in many parts of the world. While social change is not the context of this article, it is impossible for someone to imagine the burden of staying in the closet, or being ridiculed for coming out. Some studies report that gay and bisexual men are twice as prone to bulimia as heterosexual men. That there is a correlation here cannot be ignored.6
Perhaps the time has now come to think of eating disorders not as a gender-specific illness but as one that stems from a variety of factors in both men and women. At the family level, instilling self-respect and respect for the body in children is the first step toward acceptance. If parents make comments on a child’s body, the child will accept them as truth more readily.7 So, steps must be taken in all schools to prevent bullying of any kind. Most boys are picked upon for being skinny, which is just another body type. Educators must emphasize that different doesn’t mean despicable.
Finally, the society and the healthcare system must work in tandem with men who are already struggling with eating disorders and ensure that they get the right medical care and counseling required.