Males with eating disorders
The stereotypical anorexic, bulimic, and binge eater is female. The stereotype is misleading.
Just like girls and women, boys and men get anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Many males describe themselves as compulsive eaters, and some may have binge eating disorder. There is no evidence to suggest that eating disorders in males are atypical or somehow different from the eating disorders experienced by females.
The numbers seem to be increasing. Twenty years ago it was thought that for every 10-15 women with anorexia or bulimia, there was one man. Today researchers find that for every four females with anorexia, there is one male, and for every 8-11 females with bulimia, there is one male. (American Journal of Psychiatry 2001. 158: 570-574)
Binge eating disorder seems to occur almost equally in males and females, although males are not as likely to feel guilty or anxious after a binge as women are sure to do.
Clinics and counselors see many more females than males, but that may be because males are reluctant to confess having what has become known as a “women’s problem.” Also, health professionals do not expect to see eating disorders in males and may therefore underdiagnose them.
Risk factors for males include the following
Because eating disorders have been described as female problems, males are often exceedingly reluctant to admit they are in trouble and need help. In addition, most treatment programs and support groups have been designed for females and are populated exclusively by females. Males report feeling uncomfortable and out of place in discussions of lost menstrual periods, women’s socio-cultural issues, female-oriented advertising, and similar topics.
Nevertheless, like females, males usually need professional help to recover. The research is clear that males who complete treatment given by competent professionals have good outcomes. Being male has no adverse affect on recovery once the person commits to an effective, well-run program.
The wisest first step is two evaluations: one done by a physician to identify any physical problems contributing to, or resulting from, the eating disorder; and a second done by a mental health therapist to identify psychological issues underlying food behaviors.
When the two evaluations are complete, treatment recommendations can be made that address the individual’s specific circumstances. For a description of the various parts of a comprehensive recovery program, see our section on treatment.
It is important to remember that eating disorders in males, as well as in females, can be treated, and people of both genders do recover. Almost always, however, professional help is required. If you are concerned about yourself or your child, find a physician and mental health therapist who will be sympathetic to the male perspective. The sooner treatment is begun, the sooner the person can turn the problem around and begin building a happy, satisfying life. The longer symptoms are ignored or denied, the harder that work will be when it is finally undertaken.