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Men and Eating Disorders: A Hidden Epidemic

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that affect millions of people worldwide. They are characterized by a persistent disturbance of eating or eating-related behaviour that results in the altered consumption or absorption of food, that significantly impairs physical health and psychosocial functioning.

While eating disorders are often associated with women, they can also affect boys and men. In fact, according to some estimates, men represent about 10% of individuals who are treated for eating disorders, and the prevalence of eating disorders in men is on the rise. However, eating disorders in men are frequently underdiagnosed and undertreated, due to a number of factors, such as:

- The common misconception that eating disorders are a female problem, which leads to stigma and shame for men who struggle with them.

- The lack of awareness and recognition of the signs and symptoms of eating disorders in men, which may differ from those in women.

- The influence of gender norms and expectations, which may pressure men to conform to a certain body type or appearance, or to avoid expressing their emotions or seeking help.

- The limited availability and accessibility of specialized treatment programs and services that cater to the specific needs and challenges of men with eating disorders.

Some of the risk factors that may contribute to the development of eating disorders in men include:

- Dieting, especially for weight loss or performance enhancement.

- A previous history of obesity or being overweight, which may affect self-esteem and body image.

- Homosexuality or bisexuality, which may expose men to more appearance-related pressures and discrimination.

- Psychological factors, such as having low self-esteem, perfectionism, anxiety, depression, trauma, or stress.

- Participation in a sport or occupation that emphasizes thinness, weight control, or muscularity, such as wrestling, gymnastics, ballet, modelling, or bodybuilding.

One of the most common and overlooked eating disorders among men is musclerexia, also known as muscle dysmorphia or bigorexia. This is a condition where men become obsessed with building muscle and achieving a lean and muscular physique, often at the expense of their health and well-being.

Musclerexia is not just a harmless desire to improve one's appearance or fitness. It is a serious mental disorder that can have devastating consequences for one's physical and psychological health. Some of the signs and symptoms of musclerexia include:

- Spending excessive amounts of time and money on working out, dieting, supplements, and steroids

- Having a distorted body image and feeling dissatisfied with one's muscularity or body fat

- Avoiding social situations or activities that may expose one's body or interfere with one's exercise routine

- Experiencing anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or suicidal thoughts related to one's body image

- Neglecting other aspects of life such as work, school, family, or friends

- Developing medical complications such as injuries, infections, hormonal imbalances, kidney damage, or heart problems

Musclerexia is often fuelled by unrealistic and unhealthy standards of male beauty that are promoted by the media, the fitness industry, and the culture at large. Many men feel pressured to conform to these ideals of bodily strength and sculpted muscular beauty that are supposed to equate to having value as a man. However, these ideals are often unattainable and unsustainable for most men and can lead to a vicious cycle of dissatisfaction and compulsive behaviours.

Musclerexia can also be influenced by other factors such as genetics, personality traits, childhood experiences, trauma, or stress. Some men may use musclerexia as a way of coping with emotional issues or insecurities that they find difficult to express or resolve. Others may develop musclerexia as a result of being bullied, abused, or rejected because of their appearance or sexuality.

Unfortunately, many men who suffer from musclerexia do not seek help or even recognize that they have a problem. This is partly because eating disorders are still stigmatized and misunderstood in our society, especially among men. Many men may feel ashamed or embarrassed to admit that they have an eating disorder, or fear being judged or ridiculed by others. Some men may also deny that they have an issue because they believe that their behaviours are normal or beneficial for their health, performance or to make them desirable in relationships.

However, musclerexia is not something that can be ignored or overcome by willpower alone. It is a serious condition that requires professional treatment and support. If you or someone you know is struggling with musclerexia, please know that you are not alone, and that help is available. You do not have to suffer in silence or let your eating disorder define you.

The good news is that eating disorders in men are treatable and recovery is possible. The first step is to seek professional help from a qualified health care provider who can assess the severity and type of the disorder and provide appropriate referrals and recommendations. Treatment options may include:

- Psychotherapy: A talking therapy that helps individuals explore and understand the underlying causes and triggers of their eating disorder and develop healthy coping skills and strategies to overcome it. Psychotherapy may involve different approaches and techniques depending on the individual's needs and preferences.

Treatment can be sought through your G.P or through professional eating disorder services like R Hoyte Psychotherapy Services (

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