Eating Disorders: Not Just “A Woman’s Thing”


slim-man-eating-disorderThe term ‘eating disorders‘ often conjures up the images of women, but males actually account for 10 per cent of people who seek help for this disorder from health professionals. This percentage could actually be considerably higher, considering that research has shown that men often fail to obtain the help they need. Moreover, eating disorders are hitting males of younger ages, affecting some boys aged less than 12.

There are many reasons for their reticence: first of all, many do not even suspect that they may have an eating disorder. For boys and men, eating disorders don’t necessarily manifest themselves in a desire to look thin; rather, their focus is often on obtaining a leaner, ‘more ripped’ physique.

Many males with eating disorders can be misdiagnosed, because health professionals can also have the misconception that eating disorders are a female thing. Finally, males can feel ashamed to ask for help, or be unable to express what they are going through.

It is vital that males obtain speedy diagnosis and treatment, since some eating disorders, since eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Moreover, the chances of a successful outcome for treatment are increased when the disorder is caught at an early stage. With disorders like anorexia nervosa, it can be very difficult for patients to gain back the weight they need to escape from devastating consequences. These can include organ damage, heart disease and compromised bone health.

Gold standard treatments for eating disorders in males can involve either inpatient or outpatient treatment, depending on the severity of the situation. During treatment, patients receive cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which encourages them to find the link between how they think, feel and behave,  to find positive strategies for issues like anxiety and low self-esteem.

Maudsley Family Therapy has also been found to be successful in treating disorders like anorexia nervosa. In this therapy, the first aim is to gain any weight lost, and to slowly give back the patient’s autonomy, encouraging them to build a positive relationship with food. Group therapy can also be useful for males, who find relief in discovering that  other men are going through the same experience.

During treatment, males receive useful nutritional counselling and fitness retraining, to help redefine goals. It is  vital to ensure that patients receive help for any others disorders or illnesses they may have – including depression and anxiety.

Written by Mel Collings

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