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Eating Disorders and Men

Eating disorders are generally believed to affect women rather than men. However, approximately one in ten people with an eating disorder are male. However, for various reasons men can be less likely to seek help for their eating disorder than women.

Why do men develop eating disorders?

Men experience cultural pressure to look a certain way in the same way that women do. As with women, this can make them vulnerable to developing anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or other types of eating disorders. For men the pressure can be less focused on being thin and more about specific muscle shape. For example having a ‘six pack’ or developing muscle definition.

There are a number of triggers which can lead to the onset of an eating disorder:

  • Childhood bullying about being overweight.
  • Body image issues and a preoccupation with body building and trying to build up lean body mass.
  • Some occupations such as athletics/dancing/horse racing/wrestling/boxing can increase the likelihood of developing an eating disorder.

Eating disorders in men can develop in childhood/school years but, as with females, they can be triggered in adulthood by stressful life events such as loss of a partner, death of a close friend or family member, relationship breakdown, exam/work stresses.

Men might find that they have difficulty expressing emotions; they may turn to disordered eating to cope with difficult feelings. For some men the trigger can be when life feels out of control. At such times they may try to gain a greater sense of control by focusing on their physical appearance and using excessive exercise and diet.  This can provide a sense of having greater control in other areas of their life. For some men eating disorders can be associated with low self esteem and body image problems.

Identifying eating disorders in men

Men can have difficulty getting their eating disorder diagnosed. There may be reluctance on their part to seek help for what is often perceived as a ‘"female problem". There can also be a lack of recognition and a lower rate of diagnosis by health professionals.

Whilst the cause, effects and treatment of eating disorders are generally similar across both genders, there are some specific differences that may occur in males suffering from an eating disorder:

  • Weight might be within normal range as men with eating disorders often focus on muscle building and definition rather than weight loss.
  • More excessive exercise.
  • Less use of laxatives and diet pills but there can be use of medication relating to muscle building such as steroids.
  • Higher age of onset than females.
  • Reduction of testosterone and reduced libido.


External resources

Self-help documents