Archive for the tag - bulimia

Exercise Disorders in Men.

Being able to appreciate a picture like this without measuring yourself against it isn't always something you can do alone.

When it comes to male eating disorders and body image issues, it’s really a vicious cycle.

Because few people talk about male bulimia, anorexia or body image disorders, these illnesses are viewed as largely female. And yet, the Harvard University Medical School found that 25% of adults with eating disorders are male. Because so few people talk about how these illnesses impact men, the men who experience body image issues and eating disorders often suffer in a self-imposed and shameful silence.

There are a number of factors that influence eating disorders and body image issues in both men and women. Internally, low self-esteem and a lack of confidence can be a contributing factor. Externally, society bombards us with unrealistic and Photoshopped images of unobtainable physiques. And this external pressure isn’t unique to women. For every Victoria’s Secret advertisement there is another from Abercrombie & Fitch featuring chiseled torsos and glistening biceps. And in an even more body conscious gay male subculture, the pressure is still greater.

It’s worth noting that body image issues can sometimes be expressed – especially in men – through an exercise disorder. Defined as training at least two hours per day unrelated to a career in sport, these individuals feel like they can’t live without a trip to the gym. A sign of exercise disorder is when gym commitments interfere with everyday life and social activities. Because going to the gym is a considered a good habit, it’s easy for these individuals to convince themselves that their illness is really just a healthy hobby.

At the end of the day, we can’t control the images that society directs our way. But we can control how we evaluate those images – and whether or not we use them as rulers against which we measure ourselves and our bodies. It’s possible to see (and appreciate) a picture of a chiseled, oiled and unrealistically proportioned Adonis without internalizing it as an assessment against your body.

But you might not be able to do it alone.

Changing our mindset isn’t easy, and it often requires professional help. Men and women alike need to feel empowered to seek out assistance in overcoming body image and eating disorders.

To that end, the stigma that these disorders only affect women isn’t helping. And the best way to break a stigma is by talking about it. I’ve talked about my childhood struggle with anorexia and I’d encourage you to do the same. In the journey from ashamed to shameless, every bit of dialogue counts.

Do you think many men are suffering from eating disorders or body image issues in silence? Let me know in the comments below.

Why Gay Men Are 3X More Likely to Have Eating Disorders.

As a gay boy going through middle school, I struggled with anorexia. I was overweight in elementary school, and became fixated on changing things. I counted every calorie that I consumed until I was sickly thin, pale and extremely unhealthy.

I remember growing four or five inches in one year, and losing five pounds. The doctor asked me if I was eating enough. I lied, and he believed me. Boys can get away with it.

As it turns out, I wasn’t alone. A study by the Mailman School of Public Health and the National Development and Research Institutes found that eating disorders – including symptoms of anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating – are three times more common in gay men than heterosexual men. Some 15% of gay men reported eating disorders.

Why?

I’ll be honest – my immediate thought was that it’s because of gay culture. We (well, to be fair, not all of us) worship the insanely chiseled bodies of impossibly sculpted models. And by we, I include myself. The pictures that I use in this blog certainly contribute to that. If eating disorders are higher in gay men because of our body-centered focus, then I am a participant of that.

But not so fast, according the study. One of the researchers wrote:

It is not clear why gay men have high rates of eating disorders. One theory is that the values and norms in the gay men’s community promote a body-centered focus and high expectations about physical appearance, so that, similar to what has been theorized about heterosexual women, they may feel pressure to maintain an ideal body image.

To test the theory, researchers compared gay men with affiliation to the gay community (i.e., frequent gay clubs, gay gyms, etc.) to those that are far removed. There was no difference in eating disorder rates, and so researchers were left scratching their heads:

This suggests that factors other than values and norms in the gay community are related to the higher rates of eating disorder among these men

I have my own theory, but it’s not mentioned in the study. Gay men are often the targets of bullying and discrimination (some of it institutionalized). We’re are often disowned by family members, and told that we’ll burn in hell. We’re the butt of jokes, and too often the victims of hate crimes. We are even denied basic rights by our government, and treated as second-class citizens.

We are told that we are “less than” time and time again. Perhaps, eventually… some of us come to believe that it is true. And this lack of love for ourselves can manifest in very physical ways – like in eating disorders.

That’s my theory. What is yours?