People often associate eating disorders with females. However, eating disorder behaviors, such as fasting, purging, and having a preoccupation with body image, can also affect males.

The desire to have a lean, “ripped” appearance or to meet specific athletic requirements may lead males to develop body dissatisfaction and eating disorder behaviors.

The stereotype that males do not experience eating disorders may cause health professionals to miss symptoms in males. It can also leave affected males with feelings of isolation and shame.

This article discusses the prevalence of eating disorders among males, which eating disorders they may have, symptoms to watch for, and more.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), one-third of people with an eating disorder are male. They also report that approximately 10 million males in the United States will experience an eating disorder.

On top of that, a 2019 article suggests that recent statistics reporting male eating disorders are most likely a gross underestimation of the problem.

According to a 2020 review, young men often have body image concerns about having masculine-looking muscles. Males with a higher risk of developing an eating disorder include athletes.

However, due to social stigmas, men may not seek help for an eating disorder. If they do, current clinical assessments for eating disorders use language geared toward females.

For example, these assessments use amenorrhea, which is the lack of menstruation, as a diagnostic criterion for having an eating disorder.

According to a review from 2019, risk factors for males developing an eating disorder include:

  • Body dissatisfaction: Males may become dissatisfied with their body image when they compare it to the “ideal” image.
  • Muscle dysmorphia: They may have a preoccupation with their body not appearing as muscular as they want.
  • Sociocultural influences: Modern culture and media constantly promote a lean, muscular body as the ideal, manly body.
  • Psychiatric or psychological predisposition: Having depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), along with several other mood disorders, may put a person at a higher risk for developing an eating disorder.

Eating disorders males may experience include:

  • Bulimia nervosa: Characteristics of this eating disorder include recurring episodes of binge eating followed by purging behaviors, such as excessive exercise, vomiting, or taking laxatives.
  • Anorexia nervosa: This condition may include avoiding or severely limiting food because of an intense fear of gaining weight. Subtypes include restrictive and binge-purge types.
  • Binge eating disorder: Characteristics include consuming large quantities of food quickly without engaging in purging behaviors.

Some researchers classify muscle dysmorphia (MD) as a type of body dysmorphic disorder that shares many similarities with eating disorders.

Characteristics of MD include an obsession with the shape and size of one’s muscles to the point that it causes significant distress and can interfere with daily functioning.

Individuals with MD may believe their muscles are smaller than they are and believe themselves to be unattractive. This thinking may cause them to participate in eating disorder behaviors, such as binge eating followed by excessive exercise.

Eating disorder symptoms can sometimes be difficult for people and doctors to recognize as the behaviors may occur in secret.

Symptoms may also vary depending on the type of eating disorder a person has. However, the following signs could indicate an eating disorder:

Treating eating disorders varies from person to person. NEDA emphasizes the need for a gender-sensitive approach during treatment, including a consideration of biological and cultural factors.

NEDA says research suggests that males with eating disorders have a higher chance of mortality than females, making early recognition and treatment essential.

It is important to approach treatment with a multifaceted approach that addresses physical and psychological aspects. Current treatments typically include:

If a person experiences or exhibits signs of an eating disorder, it is crucial to seek help right away. Early treatment can significantly decrease health complications and improve the chance of a successful recovery.

A healthcare professional can direct someone to mental health resources and get them started on the most beneficial treatment.

How to help someone with an eating disorder

Supporting a loved one with an eating disorder is challenging but essential for their recovery. Here are some tips:

  • Avoid judgment: Listen to them, be empathetic, and avoid critical comments about their eating habits or appearance.
  • Express concern: Let the person know they are loved and encourage them to seek help.
  • Be patient: Recovering from an eating disorder can be a long process, so have patience and understanding.
  • Research: Learn about eating disorders and their treatment options to better support the person going through this journey.

Learn more ways to offer emotional support.

Eating disorders in males are a serious and often overlooked issue. Culture, and even modern healthcare, often do not recognize this as something males may experience. As such, current assessment tools can focus on females.

Understanding that eating disorders can affect anybody, regardless of gender, and getting affected people the help they need is crucial for changing this stereotype.

If someone is experiencing an eating disorder, it is important to contact a doctor for guidance and support. Recovery is possible with the right treatment and a strong support system.