Eating disorders have traditionally been considered women’s problems, but more men with anorexia are coming forward. Of the 70,000 plus people suffering with this condition, male anorexia accounts for 10%. Of that 10 percent, 20% are homosexuals and 80% are heterosexual.
Like women, men with anorexia typically develop the problem in their late teens. Sometimes it begins with trying to “buff up”, and sometimes it begins with peer pressure and taunting. Other causes include family trauma, media depictions, and parents with eating disorders. No matter the originating cause, there’s only one thing that seems to separate men from women: namely while women generally focus on being thin, men focus on muscles.
Anorexia in men is likely to be missed by health care providers, who often mistakenly believe that men don’t get eating disorders. Even when the disorder is recognized, men with anorexia have far fewer resources (like support groups) from which to choose. They may also have trouble finding a health care provider that is experienced in treating anorexia in men. This is important because the treatment for anorexia in men differs from that of anorexic women.
Four possible factors include:
Genetics – If someone in your immediate family has struggled with anorexia, then your chances of developing the disorder increase greatly. Also, certain personality types are more likely to develop eating disorders than others. For example, perfectionists are more likely to develop an eating disorder than their counterparts.
Brain Activity – Further research has indicated that another cause of male anorexia can be traced back to the brain’s dopamine receptors, which regulate pleasure. When a male with anorexia under eats, the brain dispenses feelings of euphoria. In this way food is used a type of anti-depressant as it relieves any anxious thoughts.
Family – Another emotional factor which causes male anorexia is the presence of family issues. Some males with eating disorders report feeling smothered by their families. Yet others felt abandoned and misunderstood. Still more had parents who overemphasized their physical appearances. In these families, the cause of the male anorexia is the fact that the individual learned to keep doubts, fears, anxieties and imperfections hidden.
Society – Cultural pressures to be thin and the portrayal of thin individuals on television are also underlying causes of male anorexia. The continual barrage of ads containing thin, happy people inevitably sends the message that happiness can only be found by being thin.
In addition to muscle loss, men with anorexia may experience low blood pressure, which in turn can cause heart failure. Male anorexia also causes loss of bone density (making brittle bones), weakness, dehydration (which can potentially lead to kidney failure) and hair loss.
If you are experiencing problems with weight control you are not alone. Get help by contacting your family doctor, a psychologist, mental health center or a doctor specializing in eating disorders.