Manorexia: Men with Eating Disorders on the Rise

When we think about eating disorders we rarely picture men starving or purging themselves to be thin, but a 2007 Harvard University study revealed that men account for 25 percent of people suffering from anorexia or bulimia. That’s more than double the previously reported statistic of 1 in 10, proving that manorexia, or men with eating disorders, is on the rise and much more common than most people think.

Why the huge increase?

No one knows for sure why the numbers have increased so much, but several factors could be to blame. For one, men may finally be feeling the pressure of physical perfection that women have been dealing with for decades. With every image of a waif-thin female in the media is an equally unattainable image of a man sporting chiseled abs and a super-lean physique. Even if they don’t want to admit it, some men feel pressure either from within or from society to achieve the same lean, muscular look.

This leads to the second contributing factor, which is that more and more men are finally opening up about their struggle with physical perfection. Women have been discussing their body-image issues for years, but men are often too embarrassed to admit they suffer from similar issues and therefore rarely seek treatment or help of any kind. As more men come forward and are properly diagnosed, the statistics of men with eating disorders will inevitably rise.

Finally, another big reason the numbers are increasing is that men are finally being properly diagnosed. A huge obstacle for doctors has been that the symptoms of eating disorders among men are slightly different than for women, which are so well known by now that it can be fairly easy to diagnose women. Since the symptoms doctors measure eating disorders by aren’t tailored to men, many slip through the diagnostic crack. In addition, many men might not even realize they have an eating disorder because they don’t fit the stereotypical symptoms and so they think they are simply engaging in “normal” male activities.

What are the causes of manorexia and other eating disorders in men?

While it’s true that men develop eating disorders for the same reasons women will — genetics, low self-esteem, trauma, and cultural influences — many develop symptoms that are motivated by different emotional factors and are thus harder to diagnose.

Thin vs. Muscular. It can be easier to diagnose females with eating disorders because their obsession with weight results in recognizable symptoms such as not eating, purging, and dramatic weight loss. With men it’s a different story. Men’s obsession with weight usually manifests itself in “normal male behavior” such as excessive exercise and steroid use. Instead of striving to be super thin, men will often strive to appear lean and muscular by dramatically decreasing their percentage of body fat. Losing weight and trying to bulk up are not bad goals, but they become unhealthy behaviors once it turns into a desire for physical perfection. This preoccupation with perfection is a big indicator of body dysmorphic disorder, one of the leading causes of eating disorders.

The fat kid and the athlete. Certain risk factors for developing an eating disorder are specific to men. Men who were teased as children for being overweight and athletes who must maintain a certain weight for enhanced performance are more at risk for developing eating disorders. Dieting is often the primary trigger and symptoms usually develop later in life than they do for women.

The gay community. Societal pressures to appear physically attractive within the gay community lead many gay and bisexual men to seek physical perfection through an eating disorder. Eating disorders appear to be more prevalent in gay and bisexual men, though some experts attribute this to the fact that they are more likely to seek treatment. It is a myth that only homosexuals develop eating disorders.

Getting Help

Men face unique self-esteem and emotional issues that require specific treatment for an eating disorder. Luckily, treatment tailored to men exists. By finding a treatment facility dedicated to your specific needs, your chances of recovery will be very high.