Girls and eating disorders

Barbie was a staple for many girls growing up. If she was a real person, her breasts would’ve been so big and her body so small that she would’ve toppled over. However, we all wanted to be her and live her dream life. Women and girls have also been the target of many advertisements telling us how to change our bodies to achieve the perfect figure and become more acceptable, get a man to fall in love with us, and be the woman who does it all and looks good doing it. We’ve always been showered with the messages that we’re not good enough until we’re thin enough…and we’ve never, as a group, felt thin “enough.”

Recently though, we’ve been educated on things like photoshop and learned how to discriminate media messages. We’ve been taught that Barbie could never be real and that models who are underweight often go to extreme measures (such as having an eating disorder) to achieve that body. We’ve been taught about the dangers of dieting and how to accept our body’s natural size. As a group, we’ve come a long way since the times of Karen Carpenter and have many role models of women who recovered from an eating disorder.

Boys Are Catching Up

Gone are the days that eating disorders and bad body image just effect women. Males now strive to achieve the perfect Adonis body and emulate the massive muscular structure of G.I. Joe (who, by the way has such muscular arms that they’d be dragging on the ground if he was a real person). Men are supposed to be the superhero of every story and have the 6 pack abs to go along with it. The bodies of males are now being scrutinized and torn apart just as much as their female counter parts. Companies play on male insecurities and advertise to them in the same way women have been a target of advertisements for years. Rates of men with eating disorders are now quickly catching up to their female counterparts.

The bodies of males are now being scrutinized and torn apart just as much as their female counter parts.

What is an eating disorder anyway?

In order to talk about the differences in eating disorder symptoms and presentation between men with eating disorders and women with eating disorders, let’s first talk about the different criteria used to identify certain eating disorders:

  1. Anorexia Nervosa
  • Inadequate food intake leading to a weight that is clearly too low.
  • Intense fear of weight gain, obsession with weight and persistent behavior to prevent weight gain.
  • Self-esteem overly related to body image.
  • Inability to appreciate the severity of the situation.
  • Binge-Eating/Purging Type involves binge eating and/or purging behaviors during the last three months.
  • Restricting Type does not involve binge eating or purging.

 

  1. Binge Eating Disorder
  • Frequent episodes of consuming very large amounts of food but without behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting.
  • A feeling of being out of control during the binge eating episodes.
  • Feelings of strong shame or guilt regarding the binge eating.
  • Indications that the binge eating is out of control, such as eating when not hungry, eating to the point of discomfort, or eating alone because of shame about the behavior.

 

  1. Bulimia Nervosa
  • Frequent episodes of consuming very large amount of food followed by behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting.
  • A feeling of being out of control during the binge-eating episodes.
  • Self-esteem overly related to body image.

Statistics

As someone who struggled with an eating disorder, and works with people struggling with eating disorders (including MANY boys and men with eating disorders), I’ve come to understand the ways in which eating disorders look different in males than in females. I’ve come to also understand how the criteria we use to measure whether someone has an eating disorder often discounts and minimalizes the male experience which leaves the actual amount of men with eating disorders going unreported. The stigma of eating disorders being a “girl thing” also prevents boys and men from reaching out for help.

However, I thought sharing these statistics would be a good start to minimizing the belief that eating disorders are just a “female thing.” Here are the current statistics provided by the National Eating Disorder Association on males with eating disorders (https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/research-males-and-eating-disorders):

  1. Males represent 25% of individuals with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa and 36% of those suffering from binge eating disorder when using the DSM-IV criteria (Diagnostic Statistical Manual 4th Edition).
  2. 10 million men will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life compared to 20 million women (Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, & Hudson, 2011).
  3. According to a study by Allen (2013), 1.2% of males struggled with an eating disorder at age 14, 2.6% at 17 years old, and 2.9% at 20 years old.
  4. Subclinical eating disordered behaviors (including binge eating, purging, laxative abuse and fasting for weight loss) are nearly as common among males as they are among females (Mond, 2014).
  5. Various studies suggest that risk of mortality for males with ED is higher than it is for females (Raevuoni, 2014)
  6. Men with eating disorders often suffer from comorbid conditions such as depression, excessive exercise, substance disorders, and anxiety (Weltzin, 2014).

10 million men will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life compared to 20 million women

Getting Help

Many of our boys and men are suffering in silence, going unnoticed, left to solve the problem on their own. When you’re listening to your male relatives or friends (or yourself if you’re a male), ask yourself whether the same words coming out of a female’s mouth would lead you to believe there was a problem. If the answer is “yes,” he probably has a problem too and it’s best to encourage him to get help.

There are also places for you to learn more about eating disorders such as the National Eating Disorder Association website (https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/) and the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders website (http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/how-to-help-a-loved-one/)

If you or a loved one is struggling from an eating disorder, please reach out to us as well. Call or text 210-502-722 or email amanda @ koplinconsulting.com. We have a specialized eating disorder team who can come to your home and help you navigate the struggles of recovery in real time.