Guys Get Eating Disorders, Too

Binge eating, anorexia, and bulimia aren't just 'girl problems.'

From the WebMD Archives

Binging, purging, yo-yo dieting, anorexia. Think these are girl problems? Not so fast.

"Recent data suggest that one in four people with an eating disorder is male," says Lazaro Zayas, MD. He's a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

But because of a long-held belief that bulimia and anorexia are largely female issues, males are more likely to endure an eating disorder in silence -- or worse, not even realize they have a problem.

People can have symptoms without meeting the criteria for a full-blown diagnosis of bulimia (bingeing and purging), anorexia (a starvation diet), or binge-eating disorder, says Jennifer J. Thomas, PhD. She co-wrote Almost Anorexic: Is My (or My Loved One's) Relationship With Food a Problem?

Ask yourself these questions. A "yes" answer does not necessarily mean you have an eating disorder -- but a talk with your doctor may be in order.

Are you underweight, or does your weight often shift due to repeated attempts to drop pounds? "In men, this might manifest as fasting, dehydrating, or wearing plastic clothing to 'make weight' before a sports competition," Thomas says.

Do you regularly and sometimes severely restrict what or how much you eat? Or, do you over-rely on supplements instead of regular food?

Do you eat lots of food while feeling out of control? "In growing boys, who eat quite a lot, it can be difficult to tell," Thomas says. "Remember to compare yourself or the male you're concerned about to his peer group."

Do you try to "make up" for calories eaten? This can be anything from vomiting to using laxatives and diuretics, to over-exercising and fasting.

If you're concerned that your relationship with food is a problem, ask your doctor for a referral to an eating disorder specialist or a program in your area.

Mr. Big?

A lot of men spend time building muscle and working on their physiques, but for some it can be a sign of a problem.

There's a psychological disorder called muscle dysmorphia (MD), commonly known as bigorexia. "Individuals with MD think that they are too small despite valiant efforts at muscle building, like excessive weight lifting, taking steroids, or other body building supplements," Thomas says.

While not technically an eating disorder, MD often leads to binging or excessive supplement use to put on more weight. See a doctor if you:

  • Obsess over gaining muscle or spend a ton of time in the gym
  • Often take more supplements than the recommended dose
  • Take (or are considering taking) steroids

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine."

WebMD Magazine - Feature Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on August 18, 2014

Sources

SOURCES: 

Lazaro Zayas, MD, psychiatrist, Massachusetts General Hospital. 

Jennifer J. Thomas, PhD, assistant professor of psychology, Harvard Medical School; co-author, Almost Anorexic: Is My (or My Loved One's) Relationship With Food a Problem?, Hazelden, 2013.

Medpage Today: "Eating Disorders Often Missed in Men."

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