Eating disorders do not discriminate
Historically, the perception has been that eating disorders have mainly been synonymous with women, you only need to look at the research and statistics to see this. Research out there will tell you that women are more likely to under eat, resulting in illnesses such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia for example, whilst men are more likely to over eat, which would be more symptomatic of binge eating disorder (BED).
A recent article in the Guardian stated that the number of adult men being admitted to hospital with an eating disorder has risen by 70% over the past six years – the same rate of increase as among women. It is the reasoning behind these statistics which many therapists will be most interested in. One of the arguments put forward for men overeating is that they tend to strive more for a ‘v’ shaped back and have no desire to compete with other men for who is the slimmer. Women, on the other hand, will often compete with each other for who has the slimmest figure.
What is interesting is that the same article states that steroid use has also increased, particularly within the age group of 19-24. There is an argument that the media portrayal of what women like in men and what is perceived to be a ‘good physique’ has played a role in this. Interestingly I have previously posed the question of the difference between a body builder and somebody affected by anorexia. One will look in the mirror, perceive themselves to be too fat and will take what is often maladaptive action (dangerous crash diets, purging etc.). The other will look in the mirror, perceive themselves to be too small and will take what is at times action which could be harmful to them (excessive exercise, steroids etc.).
For me, they could both very easily be defined within the same category, as mental illnesses, but we give little thought to what has relatively recently been termed ‘bigorexia’.
Men, in general, are less likely to visit the Doctor for physical or mental health problems, and eating disorders do not buck the trend here. Men are reticent to disclose, fearing they will be labelled with what has historically been a disorder associated mainly with women. Stress, depression, anxiety can all play a role in the onset of an eating disorder, although loss of appetite through the aforementioned is quite often transient.
Bullying or a throwaway comment can also lead to eating disorders and the need to fit in with societal expectations is increasing the pressure on younger people within our society. Eating disorders are not restricted to psychological explanations and can sometimes be caused by a negative experience. This may be something physical during the act of eating, which causes pain or discomfort. The result of this being associating this discomfort with the action of eating, therefore, promoting a reticence toward the subsequent intake of food.
Sadly, eating disorders can lead to irreversible health problems so it is important not just to be self-aware, but also vigilant of others around us. If you notice somebody picking at their food, spending time in the toilet after meals, losing weight quickly or even making comments around food intake, don’t be afraid to talk to them and seek help if necessary. Understanding the reasoning behind it can often help to combat the condition.
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About Jason Hanson
I am a qualified and accredited counsellor and run my own practice out of my home in Mansfield. In 2011 I wrote and delivered national training attended by over 350 staff. In 2013 I co-wrote a book on relationships which received a highly commended award from the BMA. I am a guest columnist for the local paper around mental health topics.