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January 2014

Eating Disorders Affect Men, Too

Chiseled chests. Sculpted abs. Images of the ideal body inundate men, just like women. This constant exposure may even lead some men to develop an eating disorder. Traditionally labeled a woman's problem, eating disorders may involve more men than originally thought. Current research suggests they may simply go unrecognized in men.

Thinness vs. muscle mass

In a recent study, researchers followed the eating behavior of more than 5,500 adolescent males for 12 years. During the study, these youths answered periodic surveys about their weight, physique, and eating habits. They were also asked about their use of alcohol, drugs, and other substances like steroids.

The resulting data showed a small percentage of the adolescents suffered from an eating disorder for at least 1 year. They specifically developed symptoms of binge eating. That's when a person uncontrollably eats a lot of food over a short period of time.

An even more troubling trend: Nearly 18% of the adolescents said they were extremely concerned about their body, particularly their muscles. Close to half of them reported using steroids or other substances to improve their body image. Researchers speculate this bulking-up may be the equivalent of purging in women who want to be thin.

Unrecognized symptoms

More than 10 million men will develop an eating disorder during their lifetime. But many won't be diagnosed. Part of the reason: Tools that assess eating disorders tend to focus on symptoms more common in women. For instance, women are more likely to purge or use laxatives to achieve weight loss. Men, on the other hand, favor exercise to lose fat or attain muscle mass.

Experts are working to develop a diagnostic tool geared more toward men. But it may not be enough. In general, men are more reluctant to seek help. They may feel guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed about their eating problem. What's more, men with eating disorders may be more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs. Substance abuse can complicate diagnosis and treatment.

How much do you know about eating disorders? Quiz yourself here

 

More About Binge Eating

Binge eating is the most commonly diagnosed eating disorder in men. It can strike at any age. But it often affects middle-aged men. Those with the disorder also tend to be overweight or obese.

It isn't clear what causes binge eating. It's likely a combination of many factors, including genetics, psychological problems, and social expectations. Untreated, binge eating can lead to other health problems, such as digestive issues, headaches, joint pain, and weight gain.

The main symptom of binge eating is regular compulsive overeating. Below are other signs of the disorder:

  • Feeling like you can't control your eating

  • Eating faster than normal

  • Filling up on food until it feels uncomfortable

  • Hiding or hoarding food

  • Eating even when you aren't hungry

  • Feeling guilty or depressed after a binge

Online resources

Academy for Eating Disorders

National Eating Disorder Association