The sooner males, or people identifying as male, reach out for help with an eating disorder, the sooner they realise they're not alone.
In fact, recent research suggests that eating disorders in males may be increasing at a higher rate than eating disorders in females.
The great news is that we now understand the symptoms presented by males who have an eating disorder and how they differ to the symptoms displayed by females with an eating disorder. The ‘muscular and lean ideal body image’ in males is often different to the ‘thin ideal body image’ that underlies eating disorders in females.
At the centre of many eating disorders in males or people identifying as male is a dissatisfaction with their bodies due to a lack of muscle definition. This may manifest in the following ways:
Yes. Males do engage in severe dietary restriction and purging. People with an eating disorder will restrict their food by dieting, fasting or limiting the types of food that they eat. Males with an eating disorder may engage in all of those practices and include them as part of a rigid exercise regime to improve the appearance of their bodies. It’s important to recognise that excessive exercise is a form of purging.
Some males with an eating disorder alternate between controlling their food to make their bodies appear more lean and consuming large amounts of protein in various forms to increase muscle density. In this phase they may even revert to muscle enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids. Binge eating in preparation for periods of restriction is seen as a way of maintaining muscle density without weight gain.
Young people who are anxious or lack self-confidence or have low self-esteem are susceptible to eating disorders. People who may have been teased or bullied either at school, at home or even in the workplace are also vulnerable. An eating disorder can also be a way to either cope with stress or an eating disorder might appear because of stress.
Studies suggest that gay and bisexual men have higher levels of body dissatisfaction than other males which can increase their risk of developing an eating disorder.
Risks and warning signs in men might be attitudes and beliefs that manifest in an obsessive approach to exercise or a preoccupation with having a muscular body. This often suggests that they have feelings of shame, sadness or anger associated with their bodies. Rigid, restricted eating attitudes may become habits that lead to an eating disorder.
You may also notice a tendency to social avoidance and isolation in some males while others might look for regular approval and reassurance, especially as it relates to their appearance.
Males who are overly concerned about their physical appearance should seek help. Teachers and professionals working with young people may recognise some of these early characteristics and so might parents and carers.
“So my attention turned to 'bulking up' and putting on more muscle … my behaviours were still being driven by ED and my negative body image.” Dan
To read Dan’s story and other stories of hope from males who have recovered click here
It’s not unusual for a male with an eating disorder to experience another disorder like depression or anxiety or to engage in other behaviours like heavy drinking and substance abuse. These disorders and behaviours may occur at the same time as the eating disorder or they may lead to, or be a result of, an episode of disordered eating. Other disorders and behaviours in males with an eating disorder might include:
Recovery is possible. While everyone's journey to recovery may look differently, it is 100% possible for everybody.
If you read some of the inspirational personal stories on our website you can see different journeys, and that the road to recovery is possible.
“To all the people who struggle everyday, you're not alone and there is help available. I know it's a big struggle in your life, but in my heart, I believe that we can fight this mental illness and try to recover as soon as possible. Don't give up on life!” Peter
We know that one of the biggest barriers to males asking for help is first acknowledging that there is a problem. Research suggests that when males start to learn more about eating disorders they come to understand how serious the consequences can be and take action.
Treatment for males with an eating disorder is more accessible than ever. The first step towards recovery is reaching out for help.
“The breakthrough came when I took a giant leap of faith to ask for help … Almost nine years on and the only thoughts that fill my head, are all the places I can’t wait to visit, and all the things that I hope to achieve.” George
RESET is Australia’s first digital body image program for adolescent boys, designed to give boys the opportunity to talk about the pressures they face and concerns they experience in relation to body image.
RESET will start a deeper conversation about body dissatisfaction and eating disorders which are unfortunately increasing in boys. This is a much needed and awaited prevention-focused mental health promotion program aimed at supporting schools and other youth organisations in having constructive conversations with boys. To find out more about RESET watch the video below, or click here.
If you suspect that you or someone you know has an eating disorder, it is important to seek help immediately. The earlier you seek help the closer you are to recovery. While your GP may not be a specialist in eating disorders, they are a good ‘first base’ and can refer you to a practitioner with specialised knowledge in health, nutrition and eating disorders.
For support, information, access to resources or referrals, you can also contact Butterfly's National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 (8am-midnight, AEST, 7 days a week), email email@example.com, or use webchat.
It can be extremely difficult raising the subject of eating disorders with a friend or loved one. To be supportive one needs to learn what to say and what not to say.
We can help you with knowing when to talk to your friend and what to say. ›
Communicating your concern with your child about eating and dieting behaviour can be extremely difficult. Butterfly offers a range of services that can provide you with skills and information related to communicating with your child.
We can help you with recognising issues and what to do. ›
Teachers and those working with young people are often the first to become aware of dis-ordered eating behaviours. Butterfly Education provides early intervention and prevention skills for professionals working with young people.We have a range of advice & resources ›