- 29 Nov 21
The recent research carried out by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) shows disordered eating behaviours are nearly as common among men as women.
A recent study by National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) shows that 1 in 3 people suffering with eating disorders are male.
There has also been an increase in the number of men battling eating disorders, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Men’s Health. There was a nationwide surge in the number of people hospitalised and seeking treatment for eating disorders in the past year.
The number of boys between the ages of 12–18 discharged from hospital with a principal diagnosis of anorexia or bulimia rose from 15 in 2019 to 28 in 2020. The issue is not confined to Ireland, however, as the American Journal of Men’s Health estimated that 10 million men in America will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime.
Many fear that the assumption of eating disorders as an exclusively female problem may lead to misdiagnosis. Symptoms of disordered eating like binge eating, purging, and fasting for weight loss are almost as common in men as in women.
Due to the stigma associated with men speaking out about what is considered to be a problem for women — many men suffer in silence. While the majority of people affected by eating disorders are women, it’s equally important that men are able to seek and get help.
Mark Long is a 22-year old from Bray studying Food Science in UCD. Mark has recovered from anorexia and believes in the importance of highlighting the issue for men as well as women and non-binary people.
“Movies and TV shows rarely show males as ED sufferers compared to females, and I think this is a concern. People only ever see females with EDs, so why wouldn't they believe it's a female issue?” he says.
“Females do seem to account for the majority of eating disorder cases but this could easily be from differences in actually reporting the issue,” he remarks. “I feel males are under-represented when EDs are being discussed.”
“These disorders are a biological response to starvation, it's difficult to see why this response would be different between males and females. The body and brain's top priority is survival, regardless of gender.”
Mark says that there isn’t enough support in place for men with eating disorders and points out there isn’t enough for women either.
“Eating disorders are so poorly understood by both the general public and professionals. Even many psychiatrists and specialists have been known to misunderstand issues relating to EDs and accidentally gaslighting/triggering their patients.”
Eating disorders are often not considered to be as important as other mental illnesses. Mark says that this is a problem for people who suffer with eating disorders.
“EDs should be placed on the same pedestal as other mental illnesses. Anorexia has the highest death rate of any mental illness. You'll never see it in the headlines though — because those who are killed by it are listed as "organ failure" or other complications stemming from anorexia.”
Mark posits that part of the reason why it’s not seen as a male problem is because of the way it physically manifests itself in men:
“Males seem to be more likely to be seen as a "healthy eater" as physically males have more muscle mass, so those with eating disorders are less likely to be seen as suffering. I blame absolutely nobody for my ED, but also very few people even saw it,” he says.
“There were one or two of my friends who tried to approach me but I pushed them away insisting that I was fine — a very common problem. I ate a lot of vegetables, didn't drink alcohol, was always active and spending time in a gym —sounds healthy right?”
“To a point it is; but when it consumes your life and changes your personality for the worse, it's no longer healthy. Despite all this, it was always assumed that I was just ‘healthy’ and ‘fit.’”
While eating disorders manifest themselves physically, it is important to note their psychological impact: “Eating disorders are unique in that they have both mental health and physical health consequences,” said Dr. Jason Nagata, assistant professor of paediatrics at the University of California San Francisco in an interview with Healthline.
Mark says that it is important that people can understand what an eating disorder looks like so they can help people:
“People should be taught the signs & symptoms, as well as how to approach someone they may be concerned about. The most important thing for people suffering is knowing that they have support from friends and family.”
Mark says that he feels attitude towards men with eating disorders has improved in recent years but also maintains that there is still more work to do: “Thankfully in the past few years the stigma has sort of calmed down a bit,” he says.
“But there is still a stigma surrounding it. If there wasn't, then nobody would struggle alone, but unfortunately many do.”
“I felt very safe sharing my situation with friends and most of my family. I feel as though the younger generations in particular have become more sensitive and accepting of others and realising that a problem is a problem, it doesn't matter whose problem it is.”
Thankfully — Mark has recovered from his eating disorder and he thinks organisations like Movember can help to turn the tide.
“I love the idea of Movember. It allows people to have a little bit of fun while making a world of difference,” he says.
“I think men suffering from EDs could hugely benefit from Movember-type organisations focusing on EDs. Seeing just how many men suffer from EDs may give them a sense of validity and remove the sense of isolation that is felt during an ED.”
“I know from experience that while suffering from an ED, it was the loneliness and social isolation that really affected me. I missed out on a really important part of my life that I'll never get back. I'd hate for more people to have the same happen to them,” he adds.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or another mental illness, support is available through these helplines:
- Bodywhys 1890 200 444 or email [email protected] (eating disorders)
- Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
- Samaritans 116 123 or email [email protected]
- Pieta House 1800 247 247 or email [email protected] (suicide, self-harm)
- Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 18)
- Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)
To donate to the Movember Ireland campaign, visit ie.movember.com.