“It’s clear that LGBTQ people are overrepresented in eating disorder literature in males, and that might be because that’s who comes to seek treatment. They ask for help, so it appears that there are more of them with eating disorders,” he says. “And they have a lot to discuss. Some have a conflict with their sexuality, and they use weight loss as a treatment. Losing weight reduces the sex drive, making the issue less prominent.””But there is a movement to call this the ‘male myth of eating disorders,'” he says. “Eating disorders are not only a gay man’s issue. The same doesn’t apply for lesbian women, so why should it be true in men? And if it’s a stigma that keeps men out of treatment, it is something that should be discussed.”Dr. Carson stresses that men who do not identify as gay can still develop eating disorders. After all, the cultural expectation of beauty for heterosexual men involves a body that is both thin and muscular. A V-shape, packed with muscles in the shoulders and tapering down to slim legs, may not be achievable for all men, unless they resort to unhealthy habits in order to push their bodies into this particular shape.There is a link between victimization with sexual harassment and male eating disorders, Dr. Carson says. People who are targeted due to the way they look can become interested in changing that outer appearance, so they will not become victims another time. Bullying due to appearance has also been linked to the development of eating disorders in some men.Men who participate in sports like wrestling, swimming, and gymnastics can also be vulnerable to the development of an eating disorder, Dr. Carson says, because these athletes might use diet and relentless exercise in order to change their bodies in ways that are consistent with the sport. Those changes could be disastrous for the health of the body as a whole.The way a man feels about his body will help to influence what sort of eating disorder is in play. These are a few eating disorders that clinicians recognize, and any of them could be a problem for men:
- Anorexia, in which the man reduces food intake in order to make the body smaller
- Bulimia, characterized by food binges that are followed by purges with vomiting, laxatives, or exercise
- Binge eating disorder (BED), which involves food binges but no food purges
- Eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS), in which men have an unhealthy relationship with food, weight, or both, but the behaviors don’t fit neatly into the other clinical guidelines for eating disorders
Of those eating disorders, BED is the most common among men. About 2 percent of men have BED, according to NEDA, and about 40 percent of all people who have BED are men. There are some eating disorders that seem to impact men more often than women.
“Body dysmorphia, which isn’t really recognized as an eating disorder, impacts a high amount of males,” Dr. Carson says. “It is, in some ways, the antithesis of anorexia. A male with this disorder wants to gain weight, not lose it. And it can morph into an Adonis complex or bigorexia.”
A man with body dysmorphia is still, at his core, concerned with the way his body looks, and he is likely to use diet and exercise, along with surgical corrections and medications, to change his body in order to meet that cultural expectation of shape. That’s what makes body dysmorphia fall into a continuum of eating disorders.