Health Matters: Eating Disorders

Health moment: eating disorders in men #healthyliving via @CleverlyChangin

Eating disorders have long been considered a disease of teenaged girls, and often tied to issues of weight, body image, and control. The truth is that approximately 10 percent of people with eating disorders are male, and many of them develop these disorders for the same reasons attributed to females.

A national survey of high school students and adults of both genders revealed the following statistics concerning weight, dieting, and body image:

  • 38 percent of adult females, and 24 percent of adult males reported that they were trying to lose weight; and,
  • 44 percent of high-school females and 15 percent of high-school males reported that they were trying to lose weight.

Additionally, certain occupations tend to present greater risk of eating disorders in both genders including:

  • Gymnasts;
  • Dancers;
  • Wrestlers;
  • Jockeys;
  • Swimmers; and
  • Models.

Types of Eating Disorders

There are four major categories of eating disorders: Anorexia, Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia, and Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS).

  • Anorexia is characterized by inadequate food intake leading to a low body weight. Patients might also exhibit an extreme fear of gaining weight, obsession with their food and weight, and anxiety about eating in front of others.
  • Binge Eating Disorder is characterized by consuming large amounts of food in one or more sessions per day, usually without attempting to purge after. Patients might also exhibit anxiety about eating, especially in front of others.
  • Bulimia is characterized by consuming large amounts of food in one or more sessions per day, with purging activity after. The purging activity could include vomiting, abusing laxatives, and extreme exercise. Men with bulimia are more likely to purge through exercise. Patients might also exhibit anxiety about eating, especially in front of others.
  • EDNOS is characterized by symptoms that are atypical for the other three eating disorders, such as anorexia without the usual low body weight, or purging without the associated binge eating. EDNOS could also be used to describe disorders that don’t fit any of the three above, such as night eating syndrome.

Although eating disorders are divided into categories, it is possible for someone to have more than one disease, such as anorexia and bulimia which could be characterized by long periods of restriction followed by episodes of binging and purging.

Issues Unique to Men

Although males and females have similar reasons for developing eating disorders, there are also marked psychological differences between the genders.

  • Males with anorexia tend to view themselves as more feminine than other males, regardless of sexual orientation; however,
  • Rates of eating disorders in homosexual males tend to be twice as high as those for heterosexual males;
  • Males with anorexia tend to experience more anxiety regarding sexual activities compared to females with anorexia;
  • Males with anorexia also tended to be less sexually experienced than their female counterpart; but,
  • Males with bulimia tended to be more sexually active and experienced than males with anorexia; and,
  • Males with eating disorders tend to have dependent, avoidant, and passive-aggressive personality styles as compared to males without eating disorders.

Because of the many issues unique to males, specifically pertaining to the effect of gender roles, many male patients would benefit from specific eating disorder recovery for men.

Treatment Concerns

An eating disorder can be extremely difficult to treat because it involves anxiety about a vital body function, and the treatment involves getting the patient to perform that function in a healthy matter. To look at it another way, for a patient with drug or alcohol addiction, the treatment revolves around getting the patients to avoid those substances and the behaviors that might trigger them. It’s impossible to avoid food and hunger, and doing so is actually a sign of the disease.

Another issue is that there aren’t as many resources for men because eating disorders are still considered primarily a female problem. Additionally, due to gender bias, men might be less likely to recognize the symptoms when they occur – this could lead to men not getting the help they need until they are deep into the disease.

This is not to say that people with eating disorders can’t be helped, only that it could take years of hard work to reestablish a healthy relationship with food.

An effective treatment plan uses a multi-prong approach involving psychological counseling with eating disorder specialists, dietary counseling from registered dietitians, ongoing medical care from family doctors, and family support. Additionally, some patients could benefit from medications to treat the depression and anxiety that often accompanies these diseases.



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