Men get eating disorders too.

Our thoughts for Men’s Health Week 2021.

The myth that “men don’t get eating disorders” is harmful and outdated.

A recent NHS Health Survey for England suggested that 13% of men in England could have an eating disorder. According to ONS population data, that could mean 3.5 million men are struggling.

Society is still coming to terms with the fact that there is no one way to have an eating disorder. Eating disorders do not discriminate; anyone of any age, gender or background could develop one, and you do not have to tick all the boxes of a diagnosis to be struggling.

This lack of awareness, coupled with insufficient training for medics around eating disorders, means that harmful stereotypes aren’t challenged enough. It’s no wonder that the myth persists that eating disorders are a “feminine issue” and so many men find their experiences dismissed.

One of our male clients told us about his experience of visiting a GP in his teenage years to share his concerns about an eating disorder. This is what happened:

“He diagnosed me with depression, prescribed Prozac, and told me that “men don’t get eating disorders”. This diagnosis added to my believe that I’d developed through online research where the vast majority of material was focused towards women; written by females for females. My conclusions left me feeling deeply ashamedscaredisolated and confused, like I didn’t know where to turn. For the next 20 years I internalised my suffering and “lived with” my ED using restriction, binging and purging, drinking to excess, chain smoking, over exercising – anything that would take me out of my own head and quieten the increasingly loud negative voice. Over time, I managed to convince myself that I wasn’t unwell and was able to hide my anguish from the outside world pretty well, but deep down I was miserable.”

Read the full blog, here.

Because there is no one way to have an eating disorder, the more nuanced signs and symptoms of an eating disorder may go overlooked in men – especially if these signs reflect supposed ‘values’ of modern life that are rewarded and celebrated.

For instance, over-exercising or eating healthily (or “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 strict and regimented lifestyle that’s fuelled by emotional pain.

Additionally, an overreliance on BMI as an indicator of severity in healthcare settings may mean that men with a “normal” BMI would mislead healthcare professionals to dismiss an eating disorder diagnosis, causing significant delays in referrals for specialist support.

It’s been said that, 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 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. Simply reach out – start a conversation, and take it one step at a time. You’ll find that you are not alone.

To quote another male alumni client of ours:

“If you suspect that you may have an unhealthy relationship with eating – with food, with dieting – then there is a good chance that there might be a problem there. Don’t give up. Don’t give up looking for support.

Read the full blog, here.

Helpful organisations and points of reference:

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Hear from our team and clients.