When we hear about anorexia and bulimia, we tend to assume the disorders are exclusive to women, but more cases of eating disorders are surfacing among male teenagers.
Much like addiction and alcoholism, eating disorders (E.D.), are equal-opportunity diseases. There is a not a gender, a race, a socioeconomic background, or an age that is impacted more than any other. Although most cases of anorexia and bulimia that make headlines seem to be about young women, there are just as many males suffering with an unhealthy relationship with food, body weight, and control as females.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), 20 million women and 10 million men report symptoms of an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime. While the numbers show more female than male cases, the gap is narrowing as more men come forward admitting to their struggle with E.D. The impact of social media, magazine, movie, and television’s portrayal of beauty is leading young people to dangerous levels of concern about body size, shape, and looks overall.
Type of Eating Disorders:
Individuals suffering from anorexia often have a distorted body image and an intense fear of gaining weight, which is physically seen as an inability to maintain a healthy body weight. For most people with anorexia, the body is thin, weak, and often frail. Restricting food to the point of starvation is extremely damaging to the body and can be life-threatening. A dissatisfaction with one’s body, no matter how much weight is lost, leads to organ failure and death when left untreated.
Those suffering from bulimia tend to overeat to the point of guilt and shame that leads to the desire to rid the body of all the food that was consumed. The cycle of compulsive eating, or binging, followed by self-induced vomiting, the use of laxatives, or the obsession with excess exercise, or purging, becomes repetitive, difficult to break, and damaging to the user’s physical and mental health.
Compulsive Eating, or Overeating
When eating has become a coping mechanism, and food is used to feel better, a binge is not followed by a purge. A person tends to gain weight to an unhealthy level, but cannot stop eating. Much like an alcoholic who cannot stop drinking, compulsive eaters cannot control their food intake on their own.
Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and compulsive overeating requires treatment.
Research on Male Eating Disorders
Harvard University’s School of Public Health and Boston’s Children’s Hospital have studied male teenagers in various towns and cities all across the United States. Results showed that 18% of teen males struggle with concerns about weight, body image, and physique, which lead to unhealthy behavior choices in an effort to lose weight, gain muscle, or get closer to the ideal body.
A major problem identified in the studies is that cases of male E.D. are going unnoticed because parents, teachers, and doctors are not educated in the symptoms of anorexia and bulimia, so are unable to identify E.D. in the young men around them.
Untreated eating disorders are harmful on their own, and become even more dangerous when a young man self-medicates with drugs (including steroids and other performance enhancers), alcohol, or other self-destructive behaviors.
What To Look For in Your Teenager:
- Has behavior changed?
- Does your teen demonstrate a need for perfection?
- Have you found food or food wrappers hidden in your teen’s room, backpack, or car?
- Has your teen stopped eating certain foods, or seem to “have already eaten” when it’s time for a meal?
- When you ask about food, meals, and eating habits, are you met with defensiveness or backlash?
- Do you believe your teen has dieted in the past, or is currently dieting?
- Does your teen exercise excessively?
- Have you noticed changes in grooming habits?
- Does your teen have yellowing teeth, extremely pale or yellowing skin, or hair loss?
- Does your teen make negative or self-deprecating comments about his or her appearance, body shape, or weight?
When any signs or symptoms of an eating disorder are detected in a young man, or anyone that you know, seeking professional help is the next step.
Sovereign Health Group of California has highly-trained substance abuse and mental health professionals who are ready to help your teen heal from the debilitating symptoms of an eating disorder.
By contacting the treatment team now, you can stop E.D., and any other co-occurring disorder (a mental illness or a substance abuse disorder) from impacting the teen in your life.
Blog post by: Marissa Maldonado