Men With Eating Disorders
I visited an intensive out patient treatment center for people with any variety of eating disorders ranging from Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, to Binge Eating Disorder and others. In effect, this was a partial hospitalization where patients spent the entire day but returned home every evening seven days per week. I attended one group therapy session for patients and their families and friends. It was interesting to note that several of the patients were male.
Typically, when talking about eating disorders, such as Anorexia Nervosa, most people think of women. However, recent statistics show that, out of all people diagnosed with an eating disorder, 10% are men and the numbers are getting worse. In certain ways the causes of having one of these disorders are similar for men women. There are also some factors that are unique to men. For both men and women there are such causes as pressures to be perfect, low self esteem and the wish to look a certain way.
However, for men, the emphasis is much less on being thin and much more on looking muscular. As a result, some men become addicted to working out especially with weight lifting exercises. This brings with it changing eating habits from a balanced diet to the kinds of meals believed to help build muscles. Too often the outcome is an alarming amount of weight loss.
To illustrate, there was the young man referred for psychotherapy because of depression. What immediately impressed the therapist was how thin this tall, healthy man looked. Almost from the start of his therapy it became clear that he was suffering with Anorexia Nervosa. His history revealed that he had always been athletic throughout his school and college years. A talented athlete, he played two sports during High School and college. During the Fall months he played football. That always required him to bulk up by increasing his caloric intake so that he could lift weights and add muscle to his body. However, during the winter months, he played basketball. Since speed and agility was needed for this, the coaches asked him to lose a lot of weight. By the time he graduated college he was confused about how to manage a healthy diet. He lost a huge amount of weight and was firmly in the grip of Anorexia. It's important to point out that this competitive man graduated with straight a straight A average. The need to be perfect was part of his profile.
Just as in the case of this patient, many men develop eating disorders less for the purpose of losing weight and more to be athletically capable, look muscular, fulfill certain job requirements and be attractive to women. In many cases these men were over weight as boys. They grew up being shunned by school mates. For these men, there is an effort to compensate for these early experiences losing and buffing up.
It is interesting to note that over weight men are more accepted as compared to over weight women who become stigmatized. It is also interesting to note that Men with eating disorders are more likely than women to abuse alcohol. That is because many males believe that it is masculine to be seen drinking.
In the end, the psychology of males and females with EDs is similar. Low self esteem, insecurity, searching for acceptance and approval and concern about physical appearance are all important factors that underlie these disorders.
Do you know someone with an ED? Help is available.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD