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The Silent Problem: Boys and Men with Eating Disorders

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.

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Photo Credit: Michael Bentley

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6:05AM PDT on Oct 5, 2014


4:11AM PDT on Mar 12, 2014

Having attended Roger's Memorial In Oconomowoc, WI before Weltzin took over under the founder of the founder of the men's residential unit, Dr. Thomas Holbrook, co-author of "Making Weight," published by Gurze publishing, the comments posted here are simply irrelevant to the truth. The truth is that both men and women suffering from eating disorders are victims of abuse, physical, sexual, psychological. We are NOT looking to meet any standards as you may think. We have been so scarred at the hands of family, friends, strangers, that many of us (like any other addiction) resort to food as our drug of choice, whether we choose anorexia, bulimia, or binge overeating.

What y'all are talking about are people with "disordered eating." And there is a difference...a very big difference.

Had I not found Rogers in 1998, I certainly would not be alive today. I also remember the first reality that was put out amongst us: "the most difficult addiction to recover from is food." Why? Think about it? A drug addict can go cold turkey, an alcoholic and go cold turkey, but a human being with an eating disorder MUST eat! And because of that, the rate of success to recovery is extremely low.

It took me 3 years of returning to Rogers, at 2 months stints at a shot...when health insurers would NEVER consider paying to send a male into an eating disorder institution be it in-patient hospital or residential (the facts prove that residential treatment is considerably cheaper than in-patient).

3:56PM PDT on Oct 21, 2013

It's much too easy to buy into the Mass Marketing of the so-called "perfect" body immages as we are surrounded by it all from birth to death. Big Pharm has made billions on the weight pill industry. How can one fight that when young, and the parents too busy either paying bills or with their own weight issues?

8:32PM PDT on Oct 12, 2013

@Mary L: "Men want a certain look we women are told."

Who's telling women, men want a "certain look?" Don't you really mean women select men who have that certain look for sex? And in fact that is the reason men try to emulate those looks?

@Mary L: "Men are told we all want hot hunks with a certain look too."

We're not told anything. We see female sexual expectations of men from the minute we enter public school. We watch cheerleaders provide pagentized rectal display for the biggest "hunks" (i.e. those boys with the greatest potential for violence) in the school.

Regarding eating disorders among men and boys, a brilliant professor I knew from the Art Institute of Chicago was so overweight that he needed oxygen and had to walk with a cane. His mother started raping him shortly after his father died. He was 12 or 13 when it started and ended when he was old enough to fight her off.

I was the opposite. I threw up all the time.

30 years ago when I started speaking out for boys who were sexually abused, I was told by feminists I deserved to be raped as a six year old because I was part of "the patriarchy."

Wow, and now women are just realizing men have eating disorders too.

You broads are SO sensitive.

11:51AM PDT on Oct 11, 2013


9:38PM PDT on Oct 10, 2013

Part 1 Great, exciting, optimistic news! Our omnipotent and hugely wise government has found the problem which will solve eating disorders, and is even as I write, preparing to implement it. They will just explode the economy and then since the food producers will be unable to produce, no food will be available, and wallah! Before you can say “Self centered, corrupt bunch of thieving, conniving, prison-deserving imbeciles,” we'll all be on a diet. Just think of the benefits!

9:37PM PDT on Oct 10, 2013

part 2 We'll be eating our lawns, perhaps even having some cannibalistic experiences, menus will emerge reading “Boiled shoe-tongues in socks soup, and recipes in “Care 2” will emerge from refugee camps. Who knows, as the 'Great American Politician Diet' spreads, we may even finally see a huge reduction in human over-population, except of course in Washington, 'District of Corruption.' Just think, you can lose any number of pounds in a week, especially if your neighbors decide you are worth carving up. Our government intends to save us from everything . . . except it, of course!

6:43PM PDT on Oct 10, 2013

advertising is EVIL....ive had an eating disorder (still do) :(

1:25AM PDT on Oct 10, 2013

The mass media indoctrinates us to hate ourselves as we are, to sell us all kinds of products and ideas that typically don't work, and that ultimately reduce our health and happiness.

11:55PM PDT on Oct 9, 2013


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