Men and Eating  Disorders

The reasons why men develop Eating Disorders are no different then why a woman, a child or anybody else would.

Magazines, newspaper, television, radio programmes and books do describe eating distress as mostly female’s issues. Males do develop this condition as well and not only in resent times. This was observed over three hundred years ago. In 1964 London physician Richard Morton for the first time reported a case of anorexia nervosa in a 16-year old male. Admitting to an eating disorder is difficult to anyone, but even more difficult for males due to the perceived notion that only females suffer from these illnesses. The number of female being open to treatment exceed that of males, males do suffer much more in silence and isolation.

Male suffers were overlooked and understudied. Many programs are treating female suffers only. Males struggling with eating distress were often teased more about their bodies while growing up and were preferred less for athletic teams. Last twenty years reported cases of males with eating disorders have been steadily increasing. Media and professionals are paying more attention to this issue.

Men’s bodies are more frequently the targets of advertising campaigns; leanness for men is increasingly being emphasised, and the number of male dieters and males reporting eating disorder continues to rise. Very often men with eating disorders are intensely athletic and to have begun dieting in order to attain greater sports achievement or from fear of gaining weight because of sport injury. Many men may fit another proposed but not yet accepted diagnostic category, referred to as compulsive exercise, compulsive athleticism.

According to Dr.Arnold Andersen, who wrote a book on this subject, Males with Eating Disorders/Brunner/Mazel, 1990/ definitive answers are not available, but sociocultural influences appear to play a much bigger role than biological ones. Because a male suffer does not have a loss of a period as a symptom, it is common to misdiagnose or overlook them. Men with medical and health problems tend to be overly sensitive to eating disorders. Under nutrition also affects the male’s ability to procreate/Keys/, loss of sexual interest.
Men with eating distress exhibit an over-whelming fear of fatness and desire to maintain a masculine appearance or shape. It’s neither surprising nor uncommon to see males with eating distress overuse anabolic steroids to improve muscle tone and build strength. Side effects of steroid abuse may include several psychiatric symptoms, such as hallucinations, manic symptoms and depression. Medical side effects may include reduced sexual functioning.

Characteristics of men who exercise extensively are similar to those of the female ones. Men become obsessed with exercising and view their worth according to how much they exercise. It becomes an addiction. Male jockeys, wrestlers, swimmers, and dancers see physical appearance as being vital to their success. This makes them more vulnerable to eating distress. Males who were wrestlers in high school and college often continue their bulimic trends after they give the sport.

It is difficult for men to reach out and ask for help because this condition is still very much considered as a ’women disease’. They may not want to come forward for fear that people will think the are gays. Many people automatically assume if a man has as eating disorder, then he must be gay. That is not true at all.

Someone’s sexual preference has nothing to do with them developing as eating distress.
The reason men develop eating distress are no different then why a woman, child or anyone else would. They are super-sensitive and were subjected to more anxiety and negativity in the past. They experience the same feelings as anyone else. They have very low self-esteem, are perfectionists, over achievers and use this condition for expressing their emotions because they do not know any better way.

Recovery is a ‘finding’ or ‘re-discovery’ of the self that has only been experienced under the crippling and distorting influence of an eating distress. The focus needs to be placed on developing new ways of coping with stress other than through dysfunctional eating behaviours.

Self Harm and Cutting

Self-harm can be a way of coping with problems.

It may help you express feelings you can’t put into words, distract you from your life, or release emotional pain. Afterwards, you probably feel better—at least for a little while. But then the painful feelings return, and you feel the urge to hurt yourself again. If you want to stop but don’t know how, remember this: you deserve to feel better, and you can get there without hurting yourself.

Understanding cutting and self-harm

Self-harm is a way of expressing and dealing with deep distress and emotional pain. As counter-intuitive as it may sound to those on the outside, hurting yourself makes you feel better. In fact, you may feel like you have no choice. Injuring yourself is the only way you know how to cope with feelings like sadness, self-loathing, emptiness, guilt, and rage.

The problem is that the relief that comes from self-harming does not last very long. It’s like slapping on a Band-Aid when what you really need are stitches. It may temporarily stop the bleeding, but it does not fix the underlying injury. And it also creates its own problems.

If you’re like most people who self-injure, you try to keep what you’re doing secret. Maybe you feel ashamed or maybe you just think that no one would understand. But hiding who you are and what you feel is a heavy burden. Ultimately, the secrecy and guilt affects your relationships with your friends and family members and the way you feel about yourself. It can make you feel even more lonely, worthless, and trapped.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)

Most of us have something we don’t like about our appearance — a crooked nose, an uneven smile, or eyes that are too large or too small.
And though we may fret about our imperfections, they don’t interfere with our daily lives.

But people who have body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) think about their real or perceived flaws for hours each day.

They can’t control their negative thoughts and don’t believe people who tell them that they look fine. Their thoughts may cause severe emotional distress and interfere with their daily functioning. They may miss work or school, avoid social situations and isolate themselves, even from family and friends, because they fear others will notice their flaws.

They may even undergo unnecessary plastic surgeries to correct perceived imperfections, never finding satisfaction with the results.

Characteristics of BDD

BDD is a body-image disorder characterized by persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance.

People with BDD can dislike any part of their body, although they often find fault with their hair, skin, nose, chest, or stomach. In reality, a perceived defect may be only a slight imperfection or nonexistent. But for someone with BDD, the flaw is significant and prominent, often causing severe emotional distress and difficulties in daily functioning.

BDD most often develops in adolescents and teens, and research shows that it affects men and women almost equally. About one percent of the U.S. population has BDD.

The causes of BDD are unclear, but certain biological and environmental factors may contribute to its development, including genetic predisposition, neurobiological factors such as malfunctioning of serotonin in the brain, personality traits, and life experiences.


People with BDD suffer from obsessions about their appearance that can last for hours or up to an entire day. Hard to resist or control, these obsessions make it difficult for people with BDD to focus on anything but their imperfections. This can lead to low self-esteem, avoidance of social situations, and problems at work or school.

People with severe BDD may avoid leaving their homes altogether and may even have thoughts of suicide or make a suicide attempt.

BDD sufferers may perform some type of compulsive or repetitive behavior to try to hide or improve their flaws although these behaviors usually give only temporary relief. Examples are listed below:

  • camouflaging (with body position, clothing, makeup, hair, hats, etc.)
  • comparing body part to others’ appearance
  • seeking surgery
  • checking in a mirror
  • avoiding mirrors
  • skin picking
  • excessive grooming
  • excessive exercise
  • changing clothes excessively

Medical Complications associated with Eating distress & Eating disorders.

Non-medical therapist treating Eating Disorders need to be aware of the physical problems created by this illness, so that they can encourage their patients to seek medical evaluation and treatment. Two persons with the same behaviour may develop completely different symptoms. Some patients who self-induce vomiting has low electrolytes and a bleeding oesophagus, others can vomit for years without ever developing these symptoms. It is necessary to have a well-trained and
experienced physician as part of the treatment of an Eating Disorder.

Medical assessment:

Laboratory and other diagnostic test
Nutritional evaluation
Physical exam
Common Complaints
Dizzy spells
Consequences of starving (Anorexia Nervosa)
Dry thin hair
Dry skin covered with downy fuzz
Brittle splitting nails
Weak and wasted muscles
Constipation, bloating and abdominal discomfort
Kidney and bladder infections
Urinary track stones
Cavities and gum disease
Frantic activity and depression
Absence of cycle
When the level of body fat falls bellows a certain point, the mind becomes utterly preoccupied with food.
Consequences of bingeing and vomiting (Bulimia Nervosa)
Menstrual irregularities
Puffy face, swollen gland in neck beneath jaw
Sore throat or sinus infections
Hair loss
Cavities and loss of tooth enamel
Weak muscles
Raw fingers from acid from vomiting/Russell’s sings

Family, Friends and Eating Disorder and how to cope with it

If someone in a family develops an Eating Disorder (ED), it is time to listen, not to blame.
Neither the sufferer nor the family can be blamed or criticized for developing an Eating Disorder.

Families need to learn about the Eating Disorder in order to be a positive support.

A family’s involvement can speed up the process of recovery greatly.

Friends and family members are often the forgotten victims of Eating Disorder. It is often difficult for the carer to know what to do for the person or for themselves.
Work with Eating Disorder Families is a slow process that involves a lot of education, communication and patience.


The term ‘family’ describes ‘a unique cluster of people who enjoy a special relationship by reason of love, marriage, procreation, and mutual dependence.’ The family plays a primary role in how we develop as a person and how we see ourselves in relation to other people. The family acts as a ‘mini -society’ with its own governing system, politics, economics, culture and beliefs. My experiences with how I would operate in this first structure influences how we operate out in the world because the family is vital to helping to develop belief systems and values. However, this does not mean that the family is responsible for all
developmental problems that may emerge in a person’s life.

There are no Typical Eating Disorder Families. The presence of an Eating Disorder in a family does NOT mean that the family or its members are dysfunctional! Over the years, families have been studied and re-studied to determine the causes of Eating Disorder. However, there is nothing conclusive to say that dysfunctional families breed Eating Disorder. Many sufferers come from loving families without trauma or upset.

There is no perfect family, parent, sibling or environment. The only conclusive absolute that links sufferers is their sensitivity. The negativity of the sufferers’ condition is similar, yet the sufferers and their families and environments are all unique and individual. Work with the family is firstly educational. The key to successful recovery is improve their knowledge of the condition.

Many family members enter treatment with shame, guilt and fear. In my first session with the family, it is necessary to address the fears, shame and guilt. Fear of the Eating Disorder, and shame and guilt for causing it all get in the way of helping to get rid of it!! Fear usually effects boundaries and rules. Parents are afraid to set rules and/or boundaries for fear that the sufferer will react poorly. Therefore, they become too flexible or too rigid.

The most important thing to impart on carers is to help them to let go of trying to change their loved one’s behaviour. The family member needs to come to terms with understanding that they have power only over their own behaviour. Not understanding this can set the family on a dangerous course. If we only concentrate on controlling the eating behaviour, the Eating Disorder gets worse. Stressing that carers need to care for themselves just as much as they do for the sufferer is a difficult concept for most family members. And, when they understand in theory, it is often difficult to put into practice.


A Study of Heablon and Andersen (1981) examined 73 consecutive Eating Disorder families, more than 2/3 showed not the slightest sign of imbalance or unhealthy functioning. Family issues need to be addressed through evaluation and treatment.

Burdens of guilt,
Anger and exhaustion.

Family Involvement in Recovery:

It is important for family members to express concerns, fears and observations, but in a loving and non-judgemental manner, even if this is not received very well. Remind them over and over not to give up!

Denial is often the first stage of the illness for the sufferer. However, it is also very present in the family. Many family members do not want to hear that recovery takes time and needs the family members to change. Thus, there are many families that do not want to be involved in the treatment process.

However, it is necessary that family and friends are at least seen as trying to reach out to a suffering loved one in order to facilitate the person getting help and support during recovery. Often the fact that family members make appointments to learn about the condition is a relief to sufferers. On the surface, many Eating Disorder clients express resistance to allowing their family members and or carers’ involvement. Family members must show their willingness by making appointments taking a stand.

Family members often think that they are doing the right thing when they ask how the sufferer is feeling, or getting on in therapy? It takes a long time before the sufferer knows the answer to these questions. Therefore, these direct questions asking how they are doing can overwhelm them and make them feel misunderstood.

It is up to the practitioner to explain this to families and sufferers. The practitioner takes the responsibility from the client to explain the condition.

Therapeutic Approach

Multi-Disciplinary Approach Treatment for Eating Distress

Providing care to clients with Eating Disorder (ED) is a multifaceted endeavour. This includes attention to the physical, psychological, spiritual, environmental and social domains of health. Much has been written on the diverse range of treatment options, with supporting arguments and criticisms of each. However, there has been no consensus about the ‘best’ approach. This fuels the challenge, and possibly the sense of helplessness many practitioners experience when striving towards successful treatment. Working with clients with Eating Disorder can be a highly rewarding, albeit a challenging, experience. It is hoped that through the strategies suggested here, a practitioners will feel comfortable and competent in providing care.

People with Eating Disorder usually find it very difficult to acknowledge that they have a problem. Diagnosis can be difficult, since the symptoms of Eating Disorder often occur in combination with other conditions and are very seldom clear. A multidisciplinary approach is the most effective treatment route. This involves a thorough medical assessment, nutritional guidance and education, individual, group and family work and medical follow-up.

Because Eating Disorder has a profound negative impact on all family members, it is recommended that the whole family be part of this work. Caring practitioners and play an integral role in this process, not only in the development of treatment plans, but in their implementation. It is of paramount importance that people involved in this process have the knowledge and attitudes required for such client’s care.

Therapeutic Core Treatment

Releasing self-destructive coping mechanism and free yourself from Eating Disorder.

Education derives from the verb educe, which means “to draw forth from within.” The original teaching method of Socrates of drawing from within has been largely displaced. Students are taught how to take exams but not how to think and write or how to deal with feelings and emotions and finding their own path.

I aim to draw the very best out of every person I work with. Education is core in my treatment, in a holistic way, incorporating all aspects of a person. My work is based on teaching my clients to release self-destructive coping mechanisms and to learn to experience a Life of self-acceptance and inner freedom. My program, based on over 10 years of specialized eating disorders recovery, provides positive life-changes, cognitive and behavioural changes, emotional guidance and learning to transform your negative, and pre-conditioned thinking into more realistic and loving cognitions about yourself.