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Teen girls get eating disorders right? Not a problem your typical man needs to worry about…

That's the stereotype we believe anyway, and it's a stereotype that deters too many men from getting the life-saving help they need.

It's true that far more women suffer eating disorders than men; and while men account for only 10% of known eating disorders - that 10% still adds up to a pretty substantial number, with almost 1 million American men enduring an eating disorder of some form.

Eating disorders are not only a gay man's disease, although this perception also lingers. Gay men are twice as likely as heterosexual men to have an eating disorder, but more heterosexual men in America suffer these diseases than gay men.

What Causes Eating Disorders in Men?

Societal pressures young women feel to be thin may not affect men as intensely, but the real root-causes of an eating disorder are equal opportunity offenders. Feelings of low self-esteem, an inability to cope with negative emotions, a legacy of abuse, depression or anxiety; these are the true causes of eating disorders, for both men and women.

While most women initiate eating disorder behaviors while at a healthy weight, many men with eating disorders began problem eating from an overweight state. These men are far less likely to get noticed for their eating disorder, whether it causes weight gain or weight loss.

Men are not supposed to have an eating disorder, so no one is looking for it. Compulsive eaters may gain a great deal of weight, but again, society devalues heavier men less than women, and many consider a hefty man relatively normal.

Men who lose a great deal of weight may be praised for their dieting success, and since many bulimic men use exercise as purging, others tend to consider them simply disciplined exercisers or fitness buffs.

Athletes in weight control sports seem also at an increased risk for eating disorders. Men striving to control weight within categories (boxers, wrestlers etc.) may begin unhealthy eating out of competitive pressures, in combination with other eating disorder risk factors.

Eating Disorders Are Not a "Woman's" Disease

Many men suffering an eating disorder feel reluctant to initiate treatment, embarrassed to have a "woman's" disease. They may worry of being labeled as gay or of not having their disorder taken seriously. Estimates that have women accounting for 90% of all eating disorders may be inaccurate, with many men suffering undiagnosed, and in silence.

Men need and deserve equal access to treatment, and eating disorders prove just as dangerous for men. Warning signs of an eating disorder cannot be discounted, simply because the person at risk fails to meet gender stereotypes about these disorders. Eating disorders are a mental health issue, and although teen girls and young women are most afflicted, anyone - young or old, male or female, may suffer the devastation.

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Page last updated Aug 05, 2010

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