Despite the stereotype that only women experience eating disorders, around 25% of people with eating disorders are men (Sweeting et al., 2015). The perception that eating disorders are a female condition can be incredibly harmful: men with eating disorders are less likely to seek help and treatment, and healthcare professionals may be less likely to recognise and diagnose these conditions in men (Raisanen & Hunt, 2014).
What do eating disorders in men look like?
The difficulties and symptoms experienced by men with eating disorders are very similar to those experienced by women: when it comes to eating disorders, there may be more sex similarities than differences. However, there are some specific differences that impact the presentation of eating disorders in men. These include:
Treating men with eating disorders
Our research suggests that men do not require gender-specific treatments for their eating disorders, and benefit from the same interventions as women (Kinnaird & Norton, Tchanturia, 2018; Kinnaird et al., 2019). Men told us that they want to be treated as individuals, and do not want clinicians to only focus on their gender. However, existing eating disorder treatments can sometimes be very female-centric, such as body image materials only including images of women and focusing on thinness. Effectively treating men with eating disorders means adapting and integrating male-specific concerns into standard treatment approaches.
Autistic men with eating disorders
Reflecting eating disorder research more widely, the existing research on autism and eating disorders is very female-dominated. However, we know that around two thirds of autistic people are men. As previously stated we think that around 25% of people with eating disorders are men, but a study found that around 40% of autistic people with eating disorders were men (Karjalainen et al., 2016). Whether or not men with eating disorders are more likely to be autistic compared to their female peers is something that needs further investigation.
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2) Gueguen, J., Godart, N., Chambry, J., Brun-Eberentz, A., Foulon, C., et al. (2012). Severe anorexia nervosa in men: comparison with severe AN in women and analysis of mortality. International Journal of Eating Disorders 45(4), 537-45. DOI: 10.1002/eat.20987.
3) Karjalainen, L., Gillberg, C., Rastam, M. & Wentz, E. (2016). Eating disorders and eating pathology in young adult and adult patietnts with ESSENCE. Comprehensive Psychiatry 66, 79-86. DOI: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2015.12.009.
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5) Kinnaird, E., Norton, C., Pimblett, C., Stewart, C. & Tchanturia, K. (2019). “There’s nothing there for guys”. Do men with eating disorders want treatment adaptations? A qualitative study. Eating and Weight Disorders 24(5), 845-852. DOI: 10.1007/s40519-019-00770-0
6) Levant, R.F., Hall, R.J., Williams, C.M. & Hasan, N.T. (2009). Gender Differences in Alexithymia. Psychology of Men & Masculinity 10(3), 190-203. DOI: 10.1037/a0015652.
7) Murray, S.B., Rieger, E., Hildebrandt, T., Karlov, K., Russell, J. . . . Touyz, S. W. (2012). A comparison of eating, exercise, shape, and weight related symptomatology in males with muscle dysmorphia and anorexia nervosa. Body Image 9(2), 193-200. DOI: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2012.01.008
8) Murray, S.B., Griffiths, S., Rieger., E & Touyz, S. (2014) A comparison of compulsive exercise in male and female presentations of anorexia nervosa: what is the difference? Advances in Eating Disorders, 2(1), 65-70, DOI: 10.1080/21662630.2013.839189
9) Raisanen, U., & Hunt, K. (2014). The role of gendered constructions of eating disorders in delayed help-seeking in men: a qualitative interview study. BMJ Open (4). DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2013-004342.
10) Sweeting, H., Walker, L., MacLean, A., Patterson, C., Räisänen, U., & Hunt, K. (2015). Prevalence of eating disorders in males: a review of rates reported in academic research and UK mass media. International journal of men's health, 14(2). DOI: 10.3149/jmh.1402.86.
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