Eating Disorders: Equal Opportunity Offenders

We typically associate eating disorders with teenage girls, but that’s a stereotype. Many young men also struggle with these disorders.

Males, females both at risk

Eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa certainly are more common in women. However, up to 15 percent of people suffering from these disorders are men, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. The estimates are likely higher because most people don’t recognize the symptoms in men.

Men didn’t realize they had an eating disorder

A group of British researchers interviewed 39 men and women, all between 16 and 25 years of age, all of whom had suffered from an eating disorder. In survey responses, researchers found a range of symptoms in the men: going for several days without eating, purging and obsessive calorie counting, exercise and weighing.

However, the men often didn’t realize they had an eating disorder for months, even years. They, too, thought eating disorders were a teenage girl’s problem.

Emergency is often the wake-up call

For many men, a trip to the emergency room was a wake-up call. Some men knew they had a problem, but didn’t think they would be taken seriously. For many who sought medical treatment, that’s exactly what happened. One man heard he was “going through a teenage fad.” Another was told to “man up” and “not be weak.”

Men exhibit different symptoms

Boys and young men are less likely to purge, but they will restrict their food intake dramatically while engaging in intense exercise routines. This spells as much trouble as binging and purging cycles observed in women.

Parents, teachers, health professionals and others must recognize symptoms. If a young man fits this pattern, help him recognize his pattern. An eating disorder is potentially lethal but treatable if identified early.

Older men also fall into this pattern, which receives even less attention. It’s just as critical to help them as soon as possible as well.

Providing help when symptoms first appear is crucial, as patients stand a much better chance of recovering if they enter treatment early. Anyone who ends up in the emergency room from too much exercise – and too little food – is in serious trouble. Help them see reality before it’s too late.