Male Body Image and Eating Disorders: An Increasing Concern, Gallant 2008
National Eating Disorder Information Centre
Vol. 23, No. 5 ISSN 08366845 November 2008
Males’ Body Image and
An Increasing Concern by Paul W. Gallant, CHE, MHK, BRec (TR)
When we hear terms such as problems. Such real life stories of thousands of males who do not
bulimia, anorexia, eating help us to understand the range of discuss their struggles with body
disorders, or of concerns about experiences facing males who image, eating disorders, extreme
body image, we rarely think of have overcome, continue to dieting, and excessive exercise.
males. Yet more than 300 years struggle with, or in some cases This silence – indeed, secrecy –
ago Dr. Richard Morton succumb to, eating disorders. about their eating disorders needs
documented the case of a 16 year to be better understood in order to
Stories of males with eating
old male with anorexia nervosa21. provide appropriate prevention
This is often cited as the first case and treatment for males at risk.
The personal disclosures of men
of an eating disorder in a male. struggling with an eating disorder
Corson and Andersen report that How many – and which – males
include those of John Prescott,
“historically, shame and fear of have eating disorders?
former Deputy Prime Minister of
public humiliation drove men Studies suggest a rise in the
Britain, David Beckwerment, a
with eating disorders number of males with eating
Canadian oil CEO, Gary Grahl,
underground5.” disorders14. Some research
an American school counselor,
suggests that this number is likely
and U.S. model Ron Saxen23. Dr
Yet in the past few years more to be substantially higher among
Thomas Holbrook, an eating
males have been publicly sharing male athletes, especially those for
disorder expert, shares his
their experiences and struggles whom there are weight classes or
personal struggle and recovery
around their own eating aesthetic ideals, e.g. rowers,
from an eating disorder as a co-
disorders, perhaps in an effort to jockeys, wrestlers, dancers,
author of Making Weight3. For
gymnasts, and body builders1,
reduce the stigma associated with some males such as Michael
male models, and gay males13.
this illness in males. There is a Krasnow, the ending is tragic.
newly heightened awareness of Other research suggests this
Michael died shortly after
eating disorders in males: Recent somewhat stereotypical view of
publishing his autobiography
media and online blogs include eating disorders in particular
detailing his struggle with
personal stories about men’s athletic groups and gay men may
struggles with eating disorders, be less evident than originally
thought12. The differences in
excessive exercise, extreme For each of these public
dieting, and their body image disclosures there exist hundreds findings may be due to the
Funded by Mental Health Programs and Services, Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. A Program of the University Health Network.
The opinions expressed in the Bulletin do not necessarily reflect those of the above organizations.
different samples of males control, strength and problem- professionals of eating disorders
studied and point to the need for a solving as well as to now also be in general, and in males in
bigger body of research on males emotionally sensitive and particular. Like health workers,
and eating disorders. Regardless, responsive, care-giving and many parents, educators and
it is apparent that eating disorders family oriented. Pressure to others working with men and
in males - just as in females conform to masculine stereotypes boys lack knowledge and have
cross demographic lines of race, including muscularity is also part biases about eating disorders in
general and in men in particular6.
class, sexual orientation etc, and of the socio-cultural pressures
are the outcome of combined that men and adolescent boys
Hearing from men with eating
face19,8. Muscularity in men is
personal, biological, and social
factors4,7. seen to denote power, character
Recent studies9,10 with small
and strength and is thus seen as
numbers of British Columbia
Recent studies suggest that as desirable. Eating disorders in
males with eating disorders
many as one in four cases of males thus may begin with over-
indicated that most of the male
eating disorders occur in males, exercising, which gives the sense
participants did not receive
and that .3% of males will have individual of achievement and
formal eating disorders treatment.
anorexia nervosa at some point in self-control, and then include
Reasons for this lack of treatment
their lives .5% will have bulimia increasingly restrictive or
included not disclosing their
nervosa and nearly 2% will have otherwise problematic eating,
eating disorder, not feeling
binge eating disorder14. Canadian leading to an eating disorder.
supported and understood when
researchers Woodside and Many authors consistently report
initially seeking help for eating
colleagues previously estimated that men are often reluctant to
disorders symptoms, and not
that “the overall rate of eating seek help and support for any
feeling comfortable in a female
disorders in men was about one medical condition and
treatment environment. The
particularly mental illness12.
third that of women.” Binge
absence of resources specific to
eating is believed to occur about Many may completely isolate
males with eating disorders was
equally in males and females14. themselves in times when added
identified as a problem by most
support would be beneficial, such
as when experiencing eating
What are the risk factors for
males for an eating disorder? disorders. Traditional stereotypes Summary
Eating disorders are an outcome of men as strong and invulnerable The voices and needs of males
of attempts by the person to cope may hamper males with eating with eating disorders remain
with problems by manipulating disorders from acknowledging largely unheard in our society.
food and weight. Food and and disclosing their eating Little is written on the subject of
weight management is used in the disorder in fear of being seen as males suffering from eating
absence of healthier coping being an inadequate man. disorders and few services are
strategies to regulate emotions Isolation, substance abuse, anger, specifically designed to meet
and to feel effective and in and self-harm are sometimes their needs. An increased
control. There are many factors coping methods used by males to understanding of the perspectives
that increase vulnerability to elude their struggles around body of males with eating disorders
developing an eating disorder. image, self-esteem, and eating will add to public and health
These include perfectionism, providers’ knowledge of the
childhood obesity, genetic challenges males face, provide
liability, dysfunctional eating of a Additional reasons why males are further insights into prevention
parent, chaotic family underrepresented in eating and treatment, plus contribute
environment impulsivity, disorders treatment and research towards added support to males
depression, teasing, heightened include the view that it is a who struggle with eating
sensitivity, dieting and low self ‘female-only problem’, driving disorders.
esteem4,7. Males in western allocation of resources to this References
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