Males and Eating Disorders

Many people believe that only girls are affected by eating disorders. In reality, no ethnic, gender or socioeconomic group is immune to the dangers of this disease. In regards to gender, 1 in 10 cases of these disorders involve males. This means that hundreds of thousands of males are affected. Similar alarming rates of eating disorders also exist cross-culturally. Men are less likely than women to consider themselves overweight or in need of dieting. While girls often feel fat before they begin dieting, boys are more likely to be overweight, usually in the mild to moderate range, when they begin to diet.

Males tend to diet as a means to an end. For example, they may diet to avoid being teased about being fat or to improve athletic performance in wrestling, track, swimming, and other sports. Males often try to achieve a better body image through shaping-bodybuilding, weightlifting, and muscle toning-in response to social norms for males, which emphasize strength and athleticism.

Males are less likely to be diagnosed early with an eating disorder. Doctors are reportedly less likely to make a diagnosis of eating disorders in males than females. Other adults who work with young people and parents also may be less likely to suspect an eating disorder in boys, thereby delaying detection and treatment. A study of 135 males hospitalized with an eating disorder noted that the males with bulimia felt ashamed of having a stereotypically “female” disorder, which might explain their delay in seeking treatment. Binge eating disorder may go unrecognized in males because an overeating male is less likely to provoke attention than an overeating female. This inferior image, among other things, contributes to the reality that 1 in 10 cases of eating disorders involve males. Particularly, for the disorder anorexia, up to one in four children referred to a professional is a boy. Clearly eating disorders amongst males is a cause for concern.