Information is a vital tool in the effort to help men overcome eating disorders. Understanding the facts about the types of eating disorders that impact men is an important first step. At Carolina House Eating Disorder Treatment Center, we’re proud to be a source of eating disorder information and treatment for men throughout North Carolina and South Carolina.
Get the facts about the types of eating disorders that affect men
Contrary to a common misperception, women and girls are not the only people who are at risk for developing eating disorders. This section contains information about several common types of eating disorders that affect men:
Anorexia nervosa: Men who have this form of eating disorder take extreme measures to avoid weight gain. Weight-related fears can prompt males who have this type of eating disorder to follow a dangerously restrictive diet. Men who have anorexia may feel compelled to use laxatives or diuretics. They may also feel an overwhelming urge to exercise excessively.
Unfortunately, no matter how much weight they lose, men who have this type of eating disorder will still see themselves as fat, and will feel forced to engage in dangerous weight-loss behaviors. This form of disordered eating can put men in danger of experiencing a wide range of negative outcomes. No form of mental illness has a higher mortality rate than anorexia.
Bulimia nervosa: Men who develop this type of eating disorder will engage in two types of behaviors: bingeing and purging. During a binge, the man will eat excessively, often rapidly. He will often consume much more than he had intended, and may feel powerless to stop. After the binge, he will attempt to prevent weight gain by purging.
Purges are also sometimes referred to as compensatory behaviors. Common examples of purging are forcing oneself to vomit, using laxatives or diuretics, and exercising excessively. Both the binges and the purges can cause significant physical and emotional distress in men who have this form of eating disorder.
Binge-eating disorder: Men who struggle with this type of eating disorder will find it difficult to control how much or how quickly they eat. Men with binge-eating disorder will feel compelled to rapidly consume large quantities of food over small periods of time. Once they start eating, they will be incapable of stopping, even after they feel full.
However, unlike with other types of eating disorders, these periods of overeating are not followed by purges or other compensatory behaviors. Men who have binge-eating disorder often feel significant shame and guilt in the aftermath of their eating episodes. This can cause them to refuse to eat in the presence of others or otherwise isolate themselves.
Orthorexia: This form of eating disorder is characterized by an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. It is not found in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, many experts understand that men who struggle with the condition can experience considerable distress and may benefit from effective professional care.
Men who develop this type of eating disorder may first start to limit their diet in an attempt to live a healthier life. However, men who have orthorexia will fixate on calorie consumption, spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about food, and begin to eliminate more and more types of food from their diet. What begins as an honest effort to improve health can turn into dangerous behaviors that can cause considerable physical and emotional harm.
Body dysmorphic disorder: This is not an eating disorder, but men who struggle with this condition may begin to adopt disordered eating habits. This condition causes men to have a distorted self-image and experience considerable distress regarding the size and shape of their body.
Body dysmorphic disorder can cause a man to severely restrict his diet, engage in purging behaviors, exercise excessively, and otherwise put his continued health at risk. Men who have this condition are at increased risk for also developing an eating disorder.
Statistics about eating disorders among men
The following statistics about men and eating disorders are from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), and a study that was published on the website of the National Institutes of Health (NIH):
- Eating disorders have the highest mortality rates of all types of mental health disorders.
- Experts estimate that about 10 million males in the United States will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime.
- Men may account for as much as 33% of all cases of eating disorders.
- One in 10 men told researchers they checked their body size “very often” in the previous three months.
- About 4% of men have a history of binge-eating behaviors.
Common signs and symptoms experienced by men who have eating disorders
Men who have eating disorders may exhibit a variety of signs and symptoms. These can vary depending upon the type of eating disorder that the man has developed, the presence of any co-occurring mental health disorders, his physical and mental health history, and many other personal factors. With those qualifications in mind, the following are common signs of the many eating disorders that impact men:
- Lying or being otherwise deceptive about his eating habits
- Being unwilling to eat with others
- Making frequent negative comments about his size, weight, or body shape
- Judging others on the basis of their size, weight, and body shape
- Overeating, or denying himself food, in response to stress or pressure
- Habitually going to the bathroom immediately after eating
- Possessing and using laxatives or similar products without a legitimate medical reason
- Significantly limiting the types of food that he will eat
- Weighing himself often
- Exercising excessively
- Pulling away from family and friends
- Significant changes in weight (depending upon the type of eating disorder a man has developed, this could involve either weight gain or weight loss)
- Fatigue, exhaustion, and overall lack of energy
- Decrease in muscle mass
- Tooth decay (can result from self-induced vomiting)
- Persistently feeling cold
- Diminished sex drive
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Stomach pain
- Damage to esophagus
- Irregular heart rate
- High or low blood pressure
- Impaired ability to focus or concentrate
- Diminished cognitive capacity
- Obsessive thoughts about body weight, shape, and size
- Dramatic mood swings
- Loss of interest in significant activities
- Lack of self-confidence
- Low self-esteem
Co-occurring disorders that impact men who have eating disorders
Men who struggle with eating disorders may have an increased risk for also experiencing certain co-occurring mental health disorders, including the following:
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Substance use disorders (the clinical term for addiction)
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)