Two terms not often put together in the public eye. The stigma of men succumbing to a women’s issue still holds strong in our society and while the percentage of women suffering from eating disorders has held steady over the past decade the percentage of men who are struggling has increased, with men accounting for at least 10% of reported cases. I suspect the actual statistics are far higher, especially in regards to eating disorders that surround the desire to be “bigger,” the so called “bigorexia” that is not formally recognized by any medical institution.
Look around any gym or workout facility. You may see an emaciated women running on the treadmill, but you are far more likely to see a man who has begun playing with the dangerous fires of this illness. While from the outset they may not seem unhealthy they may be suffering greatly inside from bizarre dietary behaviors and restrictions as well as legal and illegal supplementation. These behaviors can cause a host of problems ranging from delayed puberty, sexual dysfunction, respiratory issues and cardiovascular events.
The next record is waiting to be set, the next legendary sports start is waiting to be crowned. Outside of engaging in these unhealthy behaviors is there really anymore room to grow?
Perhaps on the flip side smaller and stronger is also desired. Wrestlers, jockeys, gymnasts. They need to make weight and in order to do so subject themselves to bouts of starvation, purging and excessive dehydration tactics. Is this ok because it is for a sport? How many of these men end up stuck in a vicious cycle that persists far beyond their glory days of athletics?
Men are not frequently found in treatment. Either in denial of their disorders or from not wanting to be seen as having emotional or mental issues. Perhaps an avoidance of any outward judgement of failure or weaknesses. Increasingly, adolescent boys identify with a ideal of the male body set by the media and the notion that they shouldn’t be preoccupied with their looks. Even if they are open to treatment there isn’t much that exists as so many of the inpatient and residential treatment programs are only for women. Is this the message the medical community should be sending?
Several weeks ago Waylon Lewis, the founder of this site, spoke out about his struggles and I applaud him for his bravery. When I began talking about my own struggles with anorexia I was shocked at the number of men who e-mailed me to open up and say that they also had issues. For me (and for many others) speaking out loosens the hold of these illnesses and each voice takes away some of the stigma.
Are you a man that has had an eating disorder? Is it your turn to speak out? I’m looking to compile an anthology of stories from men who have or are currently struggling. If you are interested in this project please contact me at [email protected]
For more information on men and eating disorders visit The National Eating Disorders Association website.
Photos: eatingdisordersfacts.net, med.umich.edu