Eating disorders affect all layers of the population, women and men, youth and adults. An eating disorder is often seen as a female issue, but also men regularly develop an eating problem. The cause of eating disorders is often psychological, but hereditary predisposition and environmental factors also play a role. A diet is of little use for someone with an eating disorder. There is a need for intensive expert counseling. Eating disorders become less treatable with time. It is estimated that in every 10 year-period, 5% of the patients with anorexia and 2% of the patients with bulimia die from malnutrition or suicide. That is the highest death rate among all mental illnesses. Eating disorders can also have a chronic course and lead to an abnormal eating pattern for the rest of life.
Binge Eating Disorder is the most common eating disorder among men
According to PsyQ, research shows that 3% of the men under the age of 20 develop an eating disorder. For most men, it often involves an excessive focus on “being muscular”. However, it is often more difficult for men to admit this than for women. Moreover, negative thoughts and assumptions about masculinity make the feeling of shame especially heavy. Men hardly speak about that issue and most certainly they do not share it with other men. Last but not least, men are often afraid of not being taken seriously by their surroundings and therefore, do not seek for any help or do that too late. Men can struggle with Anorexia, Bulimia and often invisible Binge Eating Disorder. This is the most common eating disorder among men. Binge Eating Disorder is equally prevalent among men and women. During an episode of this disorder, an unreasonable amount of unhealthy food will be consumed. Binge Eating Disorder is not the same as Boulimia Nervosa. A person suffering from binge eating will not compensate for the binge with extreme amounts of sports or vomiting. The likelihood of being overweight or obese during this illness remains high.
Doctors acknowledge often too late
Men with eating disorders are often not quick to look for regular help. This is mainly because they do not feel recognized, seen and invited to solve this problem. Also, care providers are not quickly thinking of men among the lines of this disease. Sociologist Sarah Lips, who has studied men with anorexia in the past, says: “The classic symptoms doctors use to determine the diagnosis tend to be more focused on women.” Therefore, the list of symptoms also includes a question if the woman is still menstruating. There are also differences in how men and women compensate for what they are eating, Lips explains. “Men are more likely to exercise excessively, while women tend to use laxatives. Excessive sport is often less noticeable, which is the reason why it can take long before the doctors start considering anorexia as a potential diagnosis. That means there is a blind spot. Doctors often mistake the symptoms among men for “another disease” and send them home with a wrong referral or medications that obviously do not work. Therefore, it takes a long time before the correct diagnosis is made. Men are often likely to be a little overweight when the Anorexia begins. Women are likely to have a more normal weight during the onset of this disease. When men then lose weight, it is not as noticeable. This also makes this disease less likely to be discovered.
It is believed that 25% of all people with an eating disorder are male
There are no trustworthy numbers on how many men exactly struggle with an eating disorder. Nevertheless, the data from CBS Stateline from 2017 shows that per 100.000 inhabitants in The Netherlands, 151 among which 14 men, struggle with an eating disorder. In reality, even more men have an eating problem. Presumably, only 1 in 4 boys and men are recognized in the Dutch healthcare system. In England, much more is known about eating problems among men. Research there shows that 25% of all the people diagnosed with an eating disorder are men. We can therefore safely say that this is a big, but invisible problem.
Men and boys do not need special care
Research shows that men and boys do not need special care. A gender-neutral approach with attention to individual differences is sufficient. Minor adjustments are necessary to be more appealing to the target group. For example: gender-neutral environment, gender-neutral PR, experts among men, adapting activities, taking into account the topics that men find important. Moreover, it is necessary that the taboo of eating disorders among men is tackled properly. Since 2019, there are more actions taken to give boys and men more recognition within the care system. That resulted in a double amount of men reported. Men know more and more on how to get help.
In 2020 The Dutch journalist Ruben De Theije and Austrian photographer Mafalda Rakoš released A Story to Tell. In this book they portrayed 11 men between the ages of 21 and 48 with an eating disorder. With this book they want to end the stigma that most people have: eating disorder is something for skinny women.
Mannen met anorexia vaak te laat geholpen:
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