Monday, 9 June 2014

Are Eating Disorders in Men Overlooked?

by Siena Hocking and Rosie Bell

(image source: Observer)
20% of anorexics are male. Twenty per cent. And rising. More and more men are starving themselves to death in a pathological pursuit of perfection. Male anorexics have much in common with women who suffer from the same debilitating illness, but there's a striking difference: For the vast majority of men, help is not on the way.

It is stereotypically seen that those who suffer from eating disorders are women. The misconception that eating disorders affect only women can lead to many men disregarding any abnormal eating habits they believe they have, thus making them unlikely to seek support or guidance. This therefore brings forwards the idea of eating disorders in men as something that should not be looked at properly – perhaps as it is now considered something that does not tend to affect men and is not related to the stereotypical ‘masculine body.’

In recent years there has been a substantial increase in the number of males who have contacted help agencies admitting to some sort of abnormal eating habit. John Bradley, a psychotherapist who has been working with people with eating disorders for over 20 years says that the rising numbers of male cases is a clear indication that this condition is not solely a “female issue”. “It is very important for people to understand that men aren’t exempt from any form of anorexia or bulimia. We see a lot of males who have excessively changed their diet to achieve an unrealistic sense of beauty,” said Mr Bradley. Mr Bradley also admits that men are often too embarrassed or self-conscious to seek professional help, and blames the media for convincing young men that the only way to succeed in life is to attain a muscular body or a slim, attractive figure.

Eating disorders are usually triggered by emotional stress, depression or low self-esteem.  Compared with women, eating disorders may be somewhat different in men. Women primarily strive for a slim figure, while men often focus on over-exercising or building muscle mass. This obsession is known as Muscle Dysmorphia. A job or profession that demands thinness or large, muscular bodies put male models, actors and entertainers at higher risk of developing an eating disorder than the general population.

According to the National Association of Anorexic Nervosa and Associated Disorders, gay and bi-sexual men are at a greater risk of developing eating disorders. Pressure to look physically attractive within the gay community often leads to gay and bisexual men purging or starving themselves in the search for physical perfection.

There is now a growing concern over the surge of pro-anorexic and bulimic sites sprouting up across the web. These websites openly endorse anorexic behaviour to young people and create misconceptions that attempt to justify eating disorders. There are many sites encouraging young men to take on the behaviour of an anorexic, convincing them that self-starving will lead them to becoming their ideal selves and ‘beautifully thin.’ This worrying increase in perception of anorexia being an ideal way of life shows that not only women need help with eating disorders, but there should be equal amounts of support for men.


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