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Why do Men Have Eating Disorders?

written by: Melinda F. • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 11/15/2010

There are approximately 1 million men with eating disorders in the United States according to the National Eating Disorders Association. They also believe that millions more have a form of some kind of eating disorder.

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    Our culture has made eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia a "woman's disease" but there are millions of men with eating disorders who are suffering as well. Though eating disorders are more common in women, the anorexia and bulimia cases in men have been on a steady rise for the past 10 years. There are a number of reasons why men suffer from eating disorders.

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    Participation in Sports

    Men with eating disorders often times are athletes striving to attain the perfect body. Males involved in low-weight sports including wrestling, gymnastics and running are at higher risk for developing an eating disorder. This is likely because these athletes need to fall into a specific weight bracket to be competitive, which can put added pressure on men to attain a specific body type or size.

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    Feeling the Need to Increase Masculinity

    From a young age, boys are surrounded by action figures, athletes and action movie stars that seem to have the perfect body. They appear large and ripped with muscle and have little to no body fat at all. This creates insecurity in males and can actually lead to eating disorders. Some will begin to take steroids and take bodybuilding to the extreme causing severe damage to their bodies.

    Also, throughout our history, men have traditionally been the breadwinners but this has changed in recent years with women taking on roles that were previously carried out by men. This can leave some men feeling like they're inadequate because their spouse makes more money than them or has a higher position or a more successful career.

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    Homosexuality and Gender Issues

    In the April 2007 issue of International Journal of Eating Disorders, there were findings reported that stated at least “15% of gay or bisexual men had at some time suffered anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorder”. These findings were found after Ilan H. Meyer, PhD, and Matthew Feldman PhD, surveyed 516 residents of New York City. Woman were surveyed as well and there seemed to be no difference in eating disorders based on sexual orientation.

    While experts can't pinpoint why there seems to be a higher prevalence of eating disorders in homosexual men versus heterosexual men, some believe it is because of the fact that the gay community has a tendency to put more emphasis on success and physical attractiveness.

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    Anxiety and Low Self Esteem

    Men with eating disorders have a high likelihood of having underlying psychological issues that include but are not limited to: depression, anxiety, self-injury, post traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or substance abuse. Those who have low self-esteem may also feel like they're just not good enough which will cause added pressure to strive for the perfect body. This is especially true for boys and young men who were teased as children because they were overweight.

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    Seeking Treatment

    The underlying causes of eating disorders is fairly universal with both men and women. There is almost always a co-existing psychological illness that needs to be treated in order to fight the eating disorder battle. A lack of therapy groups for men and treatment centers in general makes it difficult for men to reach out for help. If you believe you are suffering from an eating disorder or you know somebody who is, always try to seek medical help as soon as possible.

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    References

    CBSNews.com: More Men Facing Eating Disorders

    PsychCentral.com: Eating Disorders in Men http://psychcentral.com/news/2007/04/16/gay-men-have-more-eating-disorders/753.html

    Something-Fishy.org: Issues for Men with Eating Disorders