Maggie Baumann, M.A.: I've been facilitating eating disorder support groups for more than five years. The members of the group who attend are really varied. I've seen girls as young as 10 years old come for support, and even one woman in her 80s.
However, the group is not just for women. I've had a number of males attend as well.
Eating Disorders Affect Men, Too
While it is customary to think that only girls and women suffer from eating disorders, men and boys are not immune.
About 10 million girls and women and 1 million men and boys have anorexia or bulimia. Millions more are struggling with binge-eating disorder, which affects men and women equally.
Disorders Often Missed in Males
Males with eating disorders exhibit many of the same emotional, behavioral, and physical signs and symptoms as females; however, they are less likely to be diagnosed. This could be due, in part, to the fact that eating disorders are considered a stereotypical "female" disorder, and many health professionals and the general public are not aware of its affect on boys and men.
What I have noticed from the males who have attended my support group, as well as the males I've seen in treatment, is that many stay hidden with their disease because of the shame and secrecy. One male bulimic attendee recently said during the group, "I am so embarrassed to have this disorder and it's humiliating to have to come to a group full of women."
There are no male eating disorder support groups in the area in which I practice, so when a male needs group support, he has to come to a co-ed group. Oftentimes, though, I find if the male member is open enough to support, he will eventually feel part of the group with time and receive the same supportive benefits as a woman does.
Homosexual males have a higher risk for eating disorders because of the value the gay culture places on physical attractiveness and thinness. However, heterosexual males get eating disorders too, so remember not to assume that a male with an eating disorder is gay.
Similarities and Differences Between Sexes
What's similar? Experts say male eating disorders have more commonalities than differences with female eating disorders. Body dissatisfaction is one similar trait. Most of the underlying psychological issues that contribute to the development of an eating disorder are the same for men and women. The psychological factors found in both sexes include:
• Low self-esteem
• Need for approval or acceptance
• Lack of ability to cope with emotions and life stressors.
Most of the physical dangers associated with eating disorders are the same for both sexes, such as risk for cardiac arrest, low body weight (in anorectics), low blood pressure and pulse (anorectics), high blood pressure (binge eaters), and lack of energy and muscular weakness. A great number of the disorders' causes are similar, including relationship problems, substance abuse, family problems, trauma, and societal pressure. And lastly, the treatment outcome is essentially the same for both males and females.
It's important to remember that the symptoms of weight, food, and body size in both males and females with eating disorders are only masking the emotional issues that are the basis of the disorder.
While dieting is one of the strongest predictors of a woman or girl developing an eating disorder, it is less common in boys and men. Many males take their drive to excel in sports performance too far -- losing their weight through excessive exercise and decreased food intake. Males are generally overweight prior to the disorder's presence, and women tend to be of average weight. However, some affected males want to gain weight, or bulk up. Steroid use is more prevalent in males struggling with eating disorders.
Body dysmorphia, a condition characterized by an extreme concern with becoming more muscular, is more common in eating disordered males than females. Men are less likely to engage in compensatory behaviors like vomiting and more likely to engage in excessive exercise. Studies show that men are more likely to binge rather than restrict due to a negative body image.
The risk of developing an eating disorder is substantially higher for boys and male athletes involved in competitive sports where body shape and size are important, such as gymnastics, wrestling, ice skating, running, crew, bodybuilding, and football.
The options for eating disorder treatment are similar for both men and women, and include:
• Outpatient therapy
• Residential and inpatient care
• Support groups
• Online support
It's best to utilize a comprehensive team of health professionals who specialize in treating eating disorders to provide care. The team might include:
• Medical doctors, from primary care doctors to psychiatrists
Post Your Comment
If your son or husband/boyfriend was suffering from an eating disorder, how would you help lift the shame and embarrassment so he could seek treatment?
Need more info? Check out our eating disorder resource guide.
|Maggie Baumann, M.A., is a marriage family therapist intern working as a counselor in a private practice in Newport Beach as well as at The Victorian in Newport Beach, a residential treatment facility providing care to women struggling with eating disorders, addictions and body image. Maggie has written for various publications and appeared on national television promoting eating disorder awareness and prevention. She also facilitates two eating disorder support groups in Orange County, one in Newport Beach and the other in Laguna Beach. You can reach Maggie by email or visit her website at MaggieBaumann.com.|