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Eating Disorders in Men: Why Early Treatment Matters

Even though most people don’t associate the male sex with eating disorders, approximately one of out of every three people with an eating disorder is a man or boy. In fact, 10 million males in the United States will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Binge-eating, extreme fasting, and purging are almost as common in men as in women.

Our expert counselors at The Soho Center for Mental Health have experience treating eating disorders in men at our offices in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York City. Although men respond well to treatment, early intervention is essential to prevent long-term health ramifications, including early death. 

Men are ashamed to seek treatment

One aspect that makes eating disorders in men potentially even more dangerous than those in women is that men are less likely to seek early care. Because eating disorders are viewed as “feminine” conditions, men may feel stigmatized as being unmanly, even when they realize they have a problem.

In general, men are less likely to seek medical or psychological care than women are. They tend to wait until later stages of disease before asking for help. Waiting too long with eating disorders, however, could be deadly.

Eating disorders affect hormones

Food provides our bodies’ cells with the nutrients and energy they need to function optimally and allow us to live life to its fullest. Eating disorders that restrict foods or calories — such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia — also deprive our cells of the nutrients they need to thrive.

When men or boys restrict their eating too much, their bodies can no longer produce enough hormones, such as vitamin D and testosterone, to maintain their physical condition. A drop in hormones can cause:

Ironically, many men and boys initially develop an eating disorder in an attempt to achieve the male ideal of a muscular, lean body. However, restricting calories can lead to muscle loss, no matter how long they spend in the gym.

Athletes and veterans have eating disorders, too

Even men who appear to be physically fit can have an eating disorder. In fact, athletes are more likely to have an eating disorder than nonathletes and are more likely to exercise excessively, too. Over-exercising doesn’t give your body the chance to restore and recover or to build new muscle tissue.

Because both athletes and veterans are subject to stereotypes about masculinity, and both endure physical and mental stress in their jobs, they’re susceptible to eating disorders. About 13% of male military members have eating disorders, compared with just 1-3% of the general population.

Men are more likely to die from eating disorders

Eating disorders are mental illnesses. Men and boys are traditionally less likely to seek help for a mental illness or any type of psychological distress. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t need help.

Boys and male teens with eating disorders are more likely than their peers to commit suicide, especially if they’re gay. About 20% of men with eating disorders are gay. Eating disorders are often accompanied by other mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, which also raise the risk for suicide. 

More people die from eating disorders than from any other type of mental illness. The reluctance of men to seek early treatment also puts them at risk of early death from organ shutdown and other complications of anorexia and other eating disorders. 

Eating disorders are on the rise

Our stressful lives and the social isolation of the pandemic lockdown have led to an uptick in eating disorders. People who already have eating disorders found it more difficult to manage their disease in isolation. Even those who’d never been diagnosed with an eating disorder before lockdown found themselves binging and purging.

If you’re a man or know a man with an eating disorder, or worry that you may have one, don’t delay seeking treatment. You can easily contact us with our online form, or call our friendly staff during office hours to schedule a consultation. You may also choose teletherapy, which we conduct through confidential and affordable video/phone consultations.

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