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.