The reflection in the mirror: Male eating disorders

eating disorders male

The desire to reach a point of physical perfection pushes teenagers to enter their own version of the hunger games – resorting to starving themselves or throwing up the food they eat to reach a false idea of perfection. But eating disorders, left unchecked, lead to death. Almost three percent of youth, ages 13 to 17, struggle with an eating disorder. For those, the odds will never be in their favor – without help.

Disorders don’t discriminate

The above statistic is from the National Comorbidity Survey – Adolescent Supplement. Take note the data is relative to eating disorders — including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and more – for young boys as well – not just girls.

In another study, James I. Hudson, M.D., and researchers found binge eating disorders are three times more likely among men than women. From Disney XD – a TV channel for tweens – to boy bands, teen comics and music videos, the expectation to go from baby fat to six pack in the blink of an eye creates a pressure just as strongly perceived for young males as well.

The National Eating Disorders Association, or NEDA, highlights tips for teenage boys struggling with body image.

One tip is for teen boys to, “Remember that your body size, shape, or weight does not determine your worth as a person, or your identity as a man.” This idea is hard to accept, surrounded by images of the perfect body. NEDA also recommends boys should:

  • Spend time with friends who are not focused on weight or appearance
  • Avoid using negative self-messages about one’s image or appearance
  • Focus on the qualities in yourself that are not related to appearance

Since boys are pressured to act tough by societal standards, they may attempt to hide the signs of an eating disorder.

Catching the signs early

While there are different types of eating disorders, there are common symptoms between them to watch out for. The Mayo Clinic lists common symptoms of eating disorders to include:

  • Skipping meals or making excuses for not eating
  • Persistent worry or complaining about being fat and talk of losing weight
  • Use of dietary supplements, laxatives or herbal products for weight loss
  • Calluses on the knuckles from inducing vomiting
  • Repeatedly eating large amounts of sweets or high-fat foods

Eating disorders affect the mind as much as the body. Teenagers with an eating disorder may use medications or other unhealthy methods for the good intention of losing weight. These unhealthy methods can lead to a dangerous lifestyle and death, without intervention.

Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D., and other researchers followed the diet habits of around 1,900 teenagers and young adults for 10 years; uncovering the negative effects of abusing unhealthy dietary options to become fit.

The study examines, “10-year longitudinal associations between dieting and unhealthy weight control behaviors and changes in body mass index (BMI) from adolescence to young adulthood.” These unhealthy behaviors include participants who fasted, skipped meals or ate very little food, smoked more cigarettes, took diet pills or used laxatives and forced themselves to vomit.

Results of the study display these unhealthy behaviors early on in life lead to greater weight gain and BMI than in those who avoided these behaviors. Since eating disorders are genderless and affect the mind as much as the body, parents need to realize that boys are not bullet proof.

In other cases, an eating disorder can accompany a mental illness at the root of the disorder. That mental health issue needs specialized treatment at a facility. White River Academy offers a new start for troubled boys ages 12 to 17, including treatment of mental disorders, internal issues and substance abuse. Located in Delta, Utah, the educational program instills character values, promotes positive growth and invests in the community. Call our 24/7 helpline for details.

Written by Nick Adams.

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