Eating Concerns and Body Image

Eating Concerns and Men

A few facts

Although it isn't as widely known or talked about, men are also susceptible to disordered eating, exercise, and body image issues. It's estimated that:

  • 10 to 15% of people with bulimia are male.

  • 5 to 10% of people with anorexia are male.

  • 40% of people with binge eating disorder are male.

  • 5 to 20% of male university students are at risk.

  • The typical age of onset for eating disorders in men is at 14 to 16 years of age. 

Are eating disorders different for men?

There are some important differences in the way men and women experience eating and exercise disorders. According to Dr. Roberto Olivardia, researcher and co-author of The Adonis Complex, males tend to:

  • Experience greater weight fluctuations, and to have been overweight or obese when the disorder started
  • Have a clearer perception of their ideal body weight
  • Pursue leanness and muscularity over thinness per se
  • Binge more often, especially on carbohydrates
  • Exercise excessively
  • Have an increased prevalence for substance abuse
  • Have more sexual conflicts
  • Be less likely to seek treatment

This last characteristic is the most critical, say experts. Delays in receiving treatment result in a risk of reduced treatment effectiveness, and an increased risk of medical complications. Delays also increase the risk for depression and problems with school, work, and relationships. 

Are eating disorders more likely in gay men?

Experts in the field have found that gay men are not at higher risk for eating disorders. Gay men, having already confronted perceptions of not being masculine, are simply more likely to discuss, dialogue, and get support for eating, body image, and exercise issues than heterosexual men. 

Are some men more at risk for developing an eating disorder?

There are certain factors which can predispose men to eating disorders:

  • A transition to puberty that feels overwhelming

  • Being a "late bloomer"

  • Being perfectionistic and having a high need for control on various levels

  • Having low self-esteem or low assertiveness

  • Being an athlete (wrestlers, gymnasts, jockeys, runners, bodybuilders)

  • Experiencing depression, substance abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. 

What role do steroids play in male eating disorders?

In our culture, muscularity equals masculinity for many men. Strength, power, respect, threat, admiration, attractiveness, confidence, and sexual virility become conflated with muscularity, making this facet of appearance feel emotionally paramount for some men.

That's where steroid use comes in. Say the authors of The Adonis Complex:
"...steroids have created athletes, actors, and models bigger and stronger than any ordinary man, and the media have promulgated their images everywhere. These images have glorified the steroid-pumped body, portraying it as a model of health, athletic prowess, hard work, and dedication-while almost never admitting that it was a product of dangerous chemicals."

And the prevalence of use of these dangerous chemicals by males is much higher than people think: it's estimated that 1 to 3 million males in the U.S. have used steroids. 

Is recovery possible?

When medical support, nutrition work, and psychotherapy are utilized, recovery is completely possible for men with eating disorders. Chances for complete recovery are highest when men receive early, expert treatment at the right level of intensity. 

How do I help a friend who has an eating disorder?

If you are worried that a friend has an eating disorder, click for information and resources.

On-Campus Resources

Health Services Dietitian 401-863-3558
Located on the third floor of Health Services.
Confidential information or care is available through individual appointments with a Registered Dietitian.  Students can discuss personal eating concerns, as well as any concerns they may have regarding a friend, a roommate, or a teammate. There are no fees for these services.

University Health Services 401.863-3953
Located at the corner of Brown and Charlesfield streets.
Confidential information and care is available on a walk-in, or by scheduled appointment basis. Care is available for initial, current or past disordered eating patients. There are no fees for medical care at Health Services. However, there may be fees incurred if laboratory tests, medications, specialist or emergency hospital care is needed.

Counseling and Psychological Services 401.863-3476 
Located on the fifth floor of J. Walter Wilson.
Confidential appointments are available at Counseling and Psychological Services for students concerned about their eating issues. Guidance is also available for those who are concerned about a friend, roommate, or teammates' eating. Services include crisis intervention, short-term psychotherapy and referrals. There are no fees for appointments at Counseling and Psychological Services.

Related Links

Body Positive 
This site looks at ways we can feel good in the bodies we have. One of their slogans: "Remember, your body hears everything you think." Other topics on the web site: Size Acceptance; What do you say when everyone around you is dieting? 200 Ways to Love the Body You Have; Dieting Detox; Evaluating Weight Loss Programs: What are the Red Flags? Free subscription to email newsletter "Body Positive Pages."

Something Fishy
This site provides signs of eating disorders, motivational support talks, information on cultural issues and how to help loved ones.

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

National Eating Disorders Association
This site provides general information about eating disorders and body image concerns, tips for helping a friend and referral sources.

Eating Disorders Referral and Information Center
Provides information and treatment resources for all forms of eating disorders.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Articles from the AND on eating disorders, including Compulsive Eating and Anorexia.

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