It’s Men’s Health Week, and whilst this week is focusing on keeping men safe during covid-19 and lockdown, we’re going to “add on” the experience of being a man with an eating disorder.
About 25% of people experiencing eating disorder symptoms are male, according to the Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Statistics 2020 report, yet there are still considerable barriers for men attempting to access treatment, and a widespread lack of knowledge about men who experience eating disorders generally.
Despite improvements in eating disorder awareness, what persists is a mistaken rhetoric that eating disorders are “female” illnesses, often perpetuated by the belief that in order to have an eating disorder, you must look a certain way or weigh a certain amount.
As regular readers of Orri’s blogs understand, there is no “one way” to have an eating disorder. Weight, body shape or size does not accurately demonstrate the degree to which someone is suffering. What matters is someone’s lived experience, day-to-day, hour-by-hour, and the unique challenges they face in going about “normal” life.
At Orri, we’re aware of this and treat every person who comes through our door – male, female or other – with respect for their individual journey and unique story. We feel a great discomfort in knowing how many men there are out there who are in desperate need of support, either with full knowledge that they are suffering with an eating disorder, or, with the knowledge that something isn’t quite right about their relationship to food, their bodies and themselves.
The barriers these men face in accessing support are unique and specific and prevent them from the early intervention that’s so crucial for eating disorder recovery. GPs can struggle to diagnose an eating disorder and subsequently refer men on because the physical expression of the illness does not align with typical assessment criteria. On top of this, compared with heterosexual men, gay and bisexual men have a higher prevalence of Bulimia, subclinical bulimia, and any subclinical eating disorder. Here, “subclinical” refers to “a disease which is not severe enough to present definite or readily observable symptoms.” What that means, in reality, is not that the distress or impact of the illness is any less, but that the criteria through which someone is “diagnosed” is not met. This presents a number of unique challenges for men when they are looking to access treatment, and more awareness and discussion around this is required to ensure that people in this situation can reach out and get access to the support they both need and deserve.
Being aware of these barriers is not a limited to one week, rather, it’s embedded into the very foundations of Orri.
Across our platforms, we’ll be taking time to consider the barriers men face and the myths about eating disorders that they have to contend with. Danny Bowman, Trustee of male eating disorder charity, MalevoicED, has written a fantastic guest blog post addressing the issues men face with an eating disorder during lockdown. You can read this blog post here.
For now, we’ll leave you with this quote from one of our male clients: “We all have issues in our personal life, it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman. Asking for help is a courageous step to helping yourself, and that is the most important thing. You should not be ashamed of asking for help if you are a man; there is no judgement. Think about yourself and your recovery – nothing else…
…Everyone’s journey is different and for differing lengths of time. You will have lapses, but that’s fine so long as you recognise them and work through them. Keep your head up at all times. This will pass.”