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Though typically eating disorders afflict women and girls, approximately one million men and boys (10% of all who suffer from eating disorders) struggle with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. From boyhood, it is impressed on males that a strong, trim physique is important. Unrealistic messages are subtle but strong. Finely sculpted action figure heroes. A boy believes that in order to be significant, he must look and act like Superman. Peers and the media convey that a perfect body will attract beautiful females, afford them sexual attraction, strength, confidence and the respect of others. Male attitudes have changed as our culture values thin, beautiful people. Many men work out, diet, and sometimes go to extreme measures working for the body they dream of – the one they believe will bring them success.
Male bodies come in all shapes and sizes thanks to genetics, lifestyle, nutrition, and activity level. Media and western culture teach that bodies, faces, and personalities are fixable – suggesting that self-esteem and ego come along with physical changes. But there is, in fact, no one “right” body size. Finding good health is desirable. Going to extreme measures and never feeling satisfied is dangerous.
If thoughts and feelings around body image interfere with emotional wellbeing and quality of life, physical and mental health can suffer. When obsessive thoughts and behaviors are identified, it’s time to get help. This may manifest through restricting food, keeping rigid food plans, over exercising, binging and purging, taking diet pills, over-the-counter supplements and herbs, or any number of combinations. Athletes, men who struggle with perfectionism, anxiety or low self-esteem and those who have struggled with obesity are at risk. When his obsession with food and losing weight becomes more important than everything else, it’s time to get help. Male eating disorders present equal danger and life debilitating consequences as they do for women. Sadly, most men either don’t understand they are dealing with an eating disorder because they aren’t sure male eating disorders are possible because there is a stigma that eating disorders are gender related or they are too ashamed to seek help.
There are male eating disorder treatment centers. Some eating disorder treatment available to men across the country offer separate, gender-specific treatment groups. Regaining health and finding balance is possible.