How Eating Disorders in Men Are On the Rise

Posted on: October 23rd, 2019 by Pat Mesiti No Comments

In my last blog I talked about a new eating disorder, orthorexia nervosa – an unhealthy obsession with ‘healthy’ eating. And I told you that I was surprised to learn that somewhere between 4 to 9 percent of the Australian population has an eating disorder. That is around 1 million Australians! I have never had an eating disorder. I have always joked that I look like a garden gnome on steroids, but the truth is that I value my health and my body. Your body is the most wonderful tool you will ever be given. You have legs which move you from A to B, and hands that can open containers and help you communicate with others by writing and typing. And don’t even get me started on how wonderful eyes are! We get to see this beautiful world, and yet some people (about one in 20 people) feel incredibly dissatisfied with their bodies and develop eating disorders.

Love your body

I believe that our bodies are temples and you should take great care of your body and eat right and exercise. Let’s face it – no one is going to give you a second body if you wear this one out! You need to love and accept your body. I feel a huge amount of sympathy for people who suffer body dissatisfaction and develop eating disorders. The four eating disorders recognised by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are:

  • Bulimia Nervosa: Bulimia is eating too much followed by compensatory behaviour (liked induced vomiting).
  • Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia is constant restriction of eating calories, intense fear of gaining weight and disturbance in self-perceived weight or shape. People with this illness can literally starve themselves to death.
  • Binge Eating Disorder: This is characterised by regular binge eating. A person with Binge Eating Disorder will not use compensatory behaviours, such as self-induced vomiting or over-exercising after binge eating.
  • Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders: Sufferers may have symptoms of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating but not meet the full criteria of these disorders. They also have disturbed eating habits and a distorted body image.

Orthorexia nervosa has not yet been recognised by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Here are some more facts about Australians with eating disorders taken from the Eating Disorders Victoria website: 47 per cent of people with an eating disorder have a binge eating disorder, 12 per cent have bulimia nervosa, 3 per cent have anorexia nervosa and 38 per cent have other eating disorders.

In comparison with the general population, death rates are almost twice as high for people with eating disorders but that rises to almost six times higher for people with anorexia. Suicide is a major cause of death for people with an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are on the rise

Between 1995 and 2005, a South Australian study showed the rate of disordered eating behaviours doubled among both males and females aged 15 and older. Approximately 15 per cent of women will experience an eating disorder at some point during their life. Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness in young women.

The Butterfly Foundation, the main support group for people with eating disorders and poor body image has found that females make up about two-thirds of people with eating disorders.

My female friends are constantly reminding me that women are too often judged by how they look and not who they are, and that can lead to women developing poor body image and eating disorders, but it seems men are fast catching up to women in this area.

Australia has one of the highest rates of male eating disorders

Britain’s National Health Service has found a 66 per cent increase over the past ten years in hospital admissions of men with eating disorders. One in five British children and one in 20 adults diagnosed with an eating disorder is male. But in Australia the situation is worse for men. One in four children and one in 10 adults with anorexia nervosa is male.

A Butterfly Foundation study found that one in three Australian male Year 9 students uses fasting, skipping meals, diet pills, vomiting, laxatives and smoking cigarettes to lose weight.

Australia has one of the worst rates of male eating disorders in the world, yet it receives little publicity and young men are subject to lots of body pressure. Think of all the ads for protein supplements to make you a muscle man, and the images of slim young men on TV. Nationwide, there are few programs that specialise in male eating disorders.

I want to congratulate Doctor Who actor Christopher Eccleston, who at 55 years spoke publicly about his lifelong battle with anorexia recently. He has written a book about it, I Love the Bones of You. He says that for most of his life he hated his body, his ‘knobbly knees’ and ‘pot belly’ and he started hating his body when he was only six years old! What sort of a society do we live in when six-year-old kids hate themselves? Other high-profile men, like comedian Dave Chawner, are now opening up about their struggles with body image, and again I applaud their honesty.

Are dating apps the problem?

Some people say that social media, and particularly dating apps, are putting more pressure on men to be thin. People on dating apps make split second decisions about whether someone is attractive or not, and according to a new Harvard University study this is having a worse effect on men than women. Desperate to feel attractive more men are taking laxatives, vomiting and fasting.

Men are also much less likely than women to seek help if they have an eating disorder. But the good news is that once men gets treatment, they are just as likely to recover as women.

Men need male-focussed treatment

Many men and boys are missing out on not being diagnosed with an eating disorder. They often refuse to see a doctor because they think having an eating disorder makes them look feminine or gay when in fact eating disorders are common in men. Additionally, psychological assessment tests used by doctors have language geared to women and girls and may not pick up eating disorders in men. Studies show that risk of death for males with eating disorders is higher than it is for females. These guys need help!

Treatment for eating disorders is not one-size-fits-all. Men and boys in support groups can feel out of place surrounded by women. An all-male treatment group is recommended by the experts. Men and boys with anorexia nervosa usually exhibit low levels of testosterone and vitamin D. They may need to take supplements.

I think we all need to recognise that there is no simple solution for treating eating disorders in men or women, but these people need our love and support. If you have an eating disorder please reach out for help, and encourage anyone close to you with a disorder to also see a doctor.


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Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


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