Eating disorders are widely believed to only affect women, but we are finding out that men are susceptible to this concern as well. According to a UK study, men are under diagnosed and under treated for anorexia and other eating disorders, despite making up about a quarter of cases.
Eating disorders in men
Researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Glasgow interviewed 39 young people (including 10 men), aged 16 to 25. The participants were gathered from patient organizations, social media, and healthcare professionals.
They were questioned about their experiences when they were diagnosed with an eating disorder, as well as the treatment and support they had received.
The idea that eating disorders only affect young women was cited as one of the main reasons that men go undiagnosed.
The young men studied didn’t realize that obsessively counting calories, exercising and weighing themselves excessively, or purging themselves, were behaviours symptomatic of eating disorders.
One young man, who described himself as “one of the lads”, said he thought eating disorders only affected “fragile teenage girls”.
This was compounded by the fact that friends, family, and teachers were slow to recognize that the men were suffering from eating disorders – instead of viewing shifts in behaviour as personal choices.
It was only when the young men reached a crisis point or were admitted to the hospital did they realize that they had a disease.
However, even when men were diagnosed, the situation did not improve. Participants reported long wait times for specialist referrals and were sometimes misdiagnosed. In one case, a young man was told “to man up” by a doctor.
They also complained that while there was a sad lack of information regarding eating disorders in general, that pertaining to men was particularly sparse.
“Our findings suggest that men may experience particular problems in recognizing that they may have an eating disorder as a result of the continuing cultural construction of eating disorders as uniquely or predominantly a female problem,“ said Dr. Ulla Raisanen and Dr. Kate Hunt from the University of Oxford and University of Glasgow teams, who ran the study.