Males, eating disorders and body image
Guys get eating disorders too.
While eating disorders are often portrayed as illnesses that just affect females, or as a ‘lifestyle’ choice, this is far from reality. Guys get eating disorders too: in fact, evidence suggests eating disorders in people identifying as male are increasing. Eating disorders are a serious mental health issue and can result in serious physical issues too.
The good news is that help is available. The first step is recognising the issue and seeking support. The earlier you get help, the shorter the recovery process. Our free and confidential Helpline is a useful first point of contact, where you can get information, referrals to specialists and counselling.
“So my attention turned to ‘bulking up’ and putting on more muscle … my behaviours were still being driven by ED and my negative body image.” – Dan
40% of people experiencing Binge Eating Disorder are men
Over one third of Australians that experience an eating disorder are men
40% of people aged 11-17 experiencing disordered eating behaviours are male
Presentation and behaviour in men
At the centre of many eating disorders in males or people identifying as male is dissatisfaction with their bodies due to a lack of muscle definition. This may show in several ways. It’s not unusual for a male with an eating disorder to experience another disorder like depression or anxiety or to engage in other behaviours like heavy drinking and substance abuse. These disorders and behaviours may occur at the same time as the eating disorder or they may lead to, or be a result of, an episode of disordered eating.
Presentation can include
- Obsession with fitness and body image
- Fear of gaining weight
- Restrictive diet and eliminating certain foods
- Bingeing and purging
- Anger when confronted about their exercise and disordered eating
- Dissatisfaction, isolation and social avoidance
- Muscle enhancing drug use
Behaviours can include
- Depressive disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Impulse control
- Substance abuse
- Alcohol abuse
Yes, males do engage in severe dietary restriction and purging. People with an eating disorder will restrict their food by dieting, fasting, or limiting the types of food that they eat. Men with an eating disorder can also engage in all of those practices and include them as part of a rigid exercise regime to improve the appearance of their bodies. It’s important to recognise that excessive exercise can also be a form of disorded eating.
Some males with an eating disorder alternate between maintaining an overly rigid diet their food to make their bodies appear more lean and consuming large amounts of protein in various forms to increase muscle density. In this phase they may even revert to muscle enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids. Binge eating in preparation for periods of restriction is seen as a way of maintaining muscle density without weight gain.
Young people who are anxious, lack self-confidence, or have low self-esteem may have an increased susceptibility to eating disorders. People who have endured bullying or any form of trauma, either at school, at home or in the workplace are more likely to struggle with this disorder. The origin of an eating disorder is not always clear, it can emerge as a function to cope with stress, or it could be a reaction that is caused by stress.
Possible signs may include attitudes and beliefs that manifest in an obsessive approach to exercise or a total pursuit to having an unrealistically ideal body, often associated with a muscular physique. This may suggest underlying feelings of shame, sadness or anger associated with their body.
Men are also likely to change the means in which they socialise – either attempting to avoid or isolate themselves, others may actively seek reassurance. Males who find that they spend an excessive amount of time thinking about and trying to control their appearance, weight or physique, may need to be more alert of an eating disorder.
While everyone’s journey to recovery may look different, it helps to talk about it.
If you read some of the personal stories on our website you can see different journeys, and that the road to recovery is possible.
We know that one of the biggest barriers for men is asking for help and acknowledging that there is a problem. Men are less likely to seek help, it’s a barrier that has caused a lot of harm. Research suggests that when guys start to learn more about eating disorders they are more likely to take action. Encouragement to speak and listen openly increases earlier prevention. The first step to recovery is reaching out.
“To all the people who struggle everyday, you’re not alone and there is help available. I know it’s a big struggle in your life, but in my heart, I believe that we can fight this mental illness and try to recover as soon as possible. Don’t give up on life!” – Peter
If you suspect that you or someone you know has an eating disorder, it is important to seek help immediately. The earlier you seek help the closer you are to recovery. While your GP may not be a specialist in eating disorders, they are a good ‘first base’ and can refer you to a practitioner with specialised knowledge in health, nutrition and eating disorders.
For support, information, access to resources or referrals, contact Butterfly’s National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 (8am-midnight, AEST, 7 days a week), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or webchat.
Find out more
- Read stories of guys who have an eating disorder or who have recovered
- Find out about our RESET program: Deeper conversations about body dissatisfaction and eating disorders, Australia’s first digital body image program for adolescent boys, designed to give young men the opportunity to talk about the pressures they face and concerns they experience in relation to body image.
- NEDC conducted research on male eating disorders
- Videos on men and eating disorders