Men and eating disorders.
You are not alone.
Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses that begin in the mind and often severely impact the body. They do not discriminate, meaning that anyone can develop an eating disorder at any point in their life. This is because anyone can go through the different life stresses and anxieties – or trauma – that can cause someone to develop an eating disorder.
Historically, eating disorders have been perceived as illnesses that affect women. However, as time goes by and stigma associated with mental illness is fought, it’s clear that a lot of men are suffering. The eating disorder charity, Beat, estimates that nearly a third of a million men have an eating disorder in the UK. What’s more, hospitals have seen a 70% rise in male patients being admitted with eating disorders over the last six years.
The underestimation of how many men are struggling may come down to the fact that there’s no one way to have an eating disorder. The more nuanced signs of an eating disorder may go overlooked, especially if these signs reflect supposed ‘values’ of modern life. For instance, over-exercising or eating healthily (e.g. “clean eating”) may be understood as someone simply trying to be “healthy”, when in fact they are pushing their body to the extreme or putting their relationships at risk in order to maintain a regimented lifestyle.
“We need to challenge the stigma and misunderstanding that surround male eating disorders. Raising awareness is key, but we also need more and better training for doctors so they are equipped to recognise the illnesses and make appropriate referrals” — Chief Executive Andrew Radford, Chief Executive of Beat
A double burden
In not conforming to the stereotype of someone with an eating disorder, men face a double burden. Many men with eating disorders feel too ashamed to visit their GP. And even if they do, when diagnosing them their GPs may not consider anorexia or bulimia. Their BMI might be normal, which can be misleading when trying to diagnose an eating disorder – although we know that BMI is not the sole indicator for how much someone is suffering.
Research by Beat shows that men have to wait, on average, three times longer than women – 28 weeks – between first seeing their GP and getting a referral. They may also find that family and friends don’t take their illness seriously. Depression and overwhelming feelings of shame are common, as is abusing alcohol or other drugs to banish negative thoughts and control their weight further.
“There are many, many men out there who don’t get any help at all” — Dr Paul Robinson, Orri’s Director of Research and Development
We need to eradicate the social stigma associated with mental illness and eating disorders for everyone, and we urgently need to eradicate the social stigma for men, because their access to care is seriously compromised as a result.
If you suspect you have an eating disorder, it is essential that you get help as soon as possible. On average, eating disorders last a third longer in men than they do in women, possibly because men have to wait longer before receiving treatment.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. Rather, we treat the underlying causes of the illness that are unique to that individual – not just the physical symptoms. Orri feels more like a community or a family, where we help people to identify the parts of themselves that they want to strengthen, and the parts that they want to overcome.
Our goal is to give male patients the best possible treatment. We make sure that male patients have a male psychiatrist to work with. And in therapy sessions, we address issues such as muscularity, over-exercising and masculinity, as well as relationships with women and sexuality. We don’t just focus on the physical manifestation of the eating disorder, instead, seek to get to the root of the problem, exploring how it has evolved and tacking the issues that continue to reinforce it.
If you are worried about yourself or someone else, pick up the phone and call us to discuss it, or call Beat’s helpline.