The Silent Problem: Boys and Men with Eating Disorders
Binging on food and then purging yourself. Making yourself sick with anxiety and stress after overeating, but feeling fine after vomiting. Having perfectionist and obsessive compulsive tendencies that make you want to look perfectly skinny all the time, and feeling you can never be skinny enough. Gazing at fashion magazines and hoping upon hope that one day you can look like the models there.
Sound like a girl you know? With eight million Americans having an eating disorder currently, it’s probably no surprise if you do know someone like this, or someone who has gotten treatment for it in the past. However, recent studies are now suggesting that you may be as likely to meet a man with these symptoms as you would a woman.
Eating disorders in men are also on the rise. While the stigma and stereotype dictates that eating disorders are problems only women and a few men face, it is now estimated that 10 million American men have had some kind of eating disorder at some point in their lives. The stats are also showing that 43% of men report feeling dissatisfied with their bodies, 37% of men who binge eat report feeling depressed, and 33% of adolescent males report using unsafe weight-control methods like laxatives, binging and purging, or starvation.
It’s no wonder this is happening. We think unattainable pictures of women in the media are bad; what about unattainable pictures of men? The six-pack abs and rippling biceps, the tan and oiled beach-ready bodies and chiseled facial features — these are all unattainable goals for men.
In fact, the muscularity of the “ideal male” body figure has increased dramatically from the 1970s to the 1990s. According to Roberto Olivardia, a clinical psychologist affiliated with Harvard Medical School, “In the early ’80s, there was this real significant increase of advertising showing shirtless men, where the body became more of a commodity.” This advertising has continued well into the new millennium, causing boys and men to strive for an ideal they cannot possibly reach.
Men with eating disorders are also less likely to seek help, and less likely to be able to find help when they do seek it. It is such a stereotype in our society that women are the only ones with eating disorders that men are often embarrassed to seek treatment, and when they do, doctors and other health professionals often chalk their issues up to other problems such as anxiety, stress, or depression rather than an eating disorder. Furthermore, when many programs for eating disorders are tailored to girls, boys may not feel like they fit in, and they may not want to stay and get the help they need.
Fortunately, psychiatrist Theodore Weltzin founded a residential program for boys and men with eating disorders at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, it is the only program of its kind.
Until there are more programs such as Weltzin’s that cater to men and boys with eating disorders, we as parents and teachers need to recognize the signs and symptoms of eating disorders in the young men in our lives.
We also need to be as proactive in helping young men understand the unattainability of the bodies they see in the media as we are with young women. It’s a difficult time to be a young person considering they are constantly barraged with images in the media, and we need to be aware of that for boys and for girls.
Photo Credit: Michael Bentley