Understanding Male Eating Disorders

The health care community has moved away from thinking of eating disorders as a "Caucasian, upper-middle-class, 'princess' disease" toward recognizing these illnesses as an "everybody's disease."
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In an article in this month's Marie Claire magazine, Dr. Ovidio Bermudez, a colleague of mine at Eating Recovery Center and a nationally recognized eating disorders expert, noted the heightened prevalence of eating disorders in non-traditional demographic groups. He explained that the health care community has moved away from thinking of eating disorders as a "Caucasian, upper-middle-class, 'princess' disease" toward recognizing these illnesses as an "everybody's disease."

Underscoring this fact is the rising incidence of eating disorders among the male demographic, challenging the traditional conception of eating disorders as a woman's illness. In recent years, data point to the increasing number of men and boys presenting with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and related food and body image disorders. In fact, research suggests that male eating disorders now account for at least 10 percent of all cases. Interestingly, despite significant biological, psychological and sociological differences between men and women, the etiology of eating disorders remains fairly constant between the two genders.

From a biological standpoint, anorexia and bulimia are equally inheritable in men and women, with approximately 40 to 60 percent of the risk of these disorders resulting from an individual's underlying genetic makeup. Anorexia, in particular, has been found to be as inheritable as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Because of the inheritability of eating disorders, males that begin a diet or exercise regimen often find themselves on a slippery slope that will almost always activate the latent genetic predisposition that sets them up to have an eating disorder.

Like in their female counterparts, eating disorders in men and boys are often supported by psychological and sociological pressures, such as traditional gender roles and socially accepted ideals of masculinity. Just as media messages targeted to women and girls promote unrealistic ideals of beauty and tips for achieving the coveted thin physique, males are bombarded with media messages about masculine ideals of strength and six-pack abs. The pursuit of these elusive ideals, or the recognition that perfection eludes them, can often result in a feeling of isolation from which eating disorders can often emerge.

Regardless of gender, early intervention in eating disorders is incredibly helpful in achieving lasting recovery. While these aren't addictive disorders, they're compulsive disorders, meaning if an eating disorder has enough time to embed itself in one's identity and lifestyle, it becomes even more difficult to interrupt eating disorders behaviors and treat successfully. When seeking male eating disorders treatment, it's important to seek recovery resources with experience in addressing this fundamentally underserved eating disordered population and an understanding of their unique recovery challenges.

For more information on treatment options addressing eating disorders in men and boys, visit EatingRecoveryCenter.com.

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