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Male Anorexia

Boys Dying To Be Thin

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can affect men

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can affect men

Eating Disorders In Men

Eating disorders such as anorexia are not just a "girl's problem". Eating disorders affect both sexes. The causes, effects and treatment are similar. The main difference is that it is more difficult to identify the disorder and to get adequate treatment for men.

It can be difficult for anyone to seek help - but the problem is so much greater for young men who develop what many people mistakenly consider is a female problem.

Studies on Male anorexia

There are few large studies of men with anorexia and bulimia. One of them is the one carried out by the department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. The study suggests that eating disorders may be higher among men than the current National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders estimates. They believe that men make up about 1 million of the 8 million Americans with eating disorders.

Another study in 2007 by the Harvard University Medical School suggested that up to 25% of adults with eating disorders were male. The study was based on information obtained from a mental health survey of nearly 9,000 adults across the U.S.

Dr Arnold E Andersen, MD a professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa says that men with eating disorders have been "ignored, neglected and dismissed because of statistical infrequency".

My Life as a Male Anorexic, a uniquely male point of view of anorexia nervosa

Treating anorexia involves cognitive therapy to overcome a distorted body image, which is at the core of eating disorders.

The problem of obsession with body weight and calorie-control applies to both sexes

The problem of obsession with body weight and calorie-control applies to both sexes

Misconceptions About Male Eating Disorders

Misconceptions about male eating disorders, keep men from getting adequate treatment and often they are excluded from treatment based only on gender.

  1. Anorexia is thought of as a girl's disease and men and their families think that it cannot happen to them. Even after they suspect it, they do not want to admit that they have "a girl's disease" and neither do they want to go to specialized care mainly aimed at women.
  2. To make matters worse, men are more reluctant to ask for help because since childhood they are taught to "be in control", to "keep themselves together" without seeking out help. To be unable to control something in life is mistaken as a sign of weakness for men.
  3. Often, men are not allowed to express their feelings and may turn to eating disordered behaviour to cope with uncomfortable feelings. Even if men ask for professional help, they are frequently refused treatment. Most medical establishments are not prepared and many don't even know how to respond, as treatment is different in men and women because they have different worries and expectancies about their body image. Men relate in terms of "strong" or "weak". For some fat is associated with being weak, unmanly and disgusting. So, for many men, structured forms of exercise are carried to obsessive levels.
  4. Physically, anorexia in men may be less noticeable than in women because men can still have muscle mass even though they are thin. But this fact makes anorexia more dangerous in men as they lose more muscle and tissue, as opposed to women who lose mostly fat in the early stages.

Assessment Quiz


Diagnosing an eating disorder in a man is often more complicated than diagnosing that of a woman. Often men do not just ‘starve' themselves like the girls, but they over-exercise. So for a longer time, they tend to look healthier and muscular, whereas girls look washed out. Also, a classic sign of anorexia, amenorrhea, cannot be applied in men.

In men, Doctors are more likely to look for physical causes of weight change before considering an eating disorder. For men with eating disorders, levels of testosterone decrease along with sexual libido, which often go unreported or unnoticed.


The eating disorder Bulimia may go partly unrecognized as overeating by men is less likely to evoke concern. The diagnosis of an eating disorder in men takes about twice as long as in women, leaving the problems associated with the eating disorder to worsen.


Despite the gender differences, anorexia and bulimia are characterized, in both men and women, by essentially the same traits: self-induced starvation, an excessive fear of becoming fat even when thin, and a tendency toward compulsive living patterns.

Doctors often don't spot the signs in men. Symptoms can involve: -

  • Noticeable weight loss or fluctuating in size.
  • Obsessive preoccupation with body, weight and shape.
  • Compulsive over-exercising.
  • Abuse of products that help "bulk up".
  • Decreased sexual desire.
  • Depression, fatigue.
  • Performing food rituals or restricting the amounts or types of foods eaten (eating no fat or eating only vegetables, for example). Also Inability to eat with others.
  • Vomiting or using laxatives or diuretics.
  • Use of diet pills.
  • Perfectionist behaviour.
  • Isolating oneself.
  • Thinning hair.


An important part of recovery is accepting that you have an eating disorder and talking about it.

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What To Do?

  1. See a physician to identify any physical problems contributing to, or resulting from, the eating disorder.
  2. Speak with a psychotherapist or mental-health professional who specializes in the treatment of these disorders.
  3. Experts also recommend contacting a nutritionist or registered dietician to help develop healthful eating habits and menu planning.

Eating With A Recovering Anorexic

Eating can be very stressful for people recovering from anorexia or any other eating disorder, so don’t add to it by discussing things that may increase anxiety for them.

If you are eating with someone recovering from an eating disorder, try to focus on positive and light topics that aren’t related to food. Cheerful conversation can sometimes serve as a good distraction from food-related anxiety.

Whatever you do, please do not try to be the "Food Police" you are there to help, to offer support, you don't want to judge or monitor everything they eat. Try to be as normal as possible with them, avoid "the food" topic.

Male Eating Disorder Survivor

Known Risk Factors For The Development Of Eating Disorders In Men

Some factors that might put a man at risk of being affected by an eating disorder are:

  • Negative family patterns. Parents who stress fitness or athleticism to an unhealthy degree, or have unrealistic expectations for their children.
  • Media influence. Magazines and TV commercials increasingly sport photos of lean, muscular, athletic-looking men.
  • Traumatic events. Sexual, physical or emotional abuse.
  • During adolescence, teasing and taunting by their peers, as well as difficulty fitting into the masculine values of competitiveness, aggressiveness, strength, athleticism and independence.
  • Overweight in childhood which leads to dieting during puberty.
  • Confusion and anxiety about becoming a man and growing up. Some males attempt to deal with their sexual impulses by developing an eating disorder as a way to attempt to regain control over their bodies.
  • The practice of certain sports where body shape and size are important. For example: runners, jockeys, gymnasts, ice skaters and dancers are at increased risk. Also wrestlers who try to shed pounds quickly before a match so they can compete in a lower weight category seem to be at special risk.
  • A job or profession that demands thinness, like modelling and acting.
  • Men who experienced intense emotional pain and do not know how to cope with it in a healthy way, try to control eating habits, weight or bodily functions as means to provide a sense of control
John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 1980.  Photo taken by Annie Leibovitz only a few hours before John Lennon was shot dead.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 1980. Photo taken by Annie Leibovitz only a few hours before John Lennon was shot dead.

Male Celebrities With Eating Disorders

  • John Lennon. Author Debra Sharon Davis claims in her book "BackStage Pass VIP" that Lennon showed all the signs of an eating disorder but because he was never diagnosed with the disease went untreated in his years of fame.
  • Elton John, gone public about his struggles with bulimia.
  • Actor Billy Bob Thornton went public about his weight issues and struggles with anorexia.
  • Actor Dennis Quaid spoke out about his battle with anorexia in the mid-1990s which he developed because he had to lose some weight for a role in a movie.
  • Actor Matthew Perry (Friends) was battling an eating disorder in the past.
  • Elvis Presley suffered an eating disorder and chronic depression.
  • Alfred Hitchcock struggled with compulsive eating.
  • Musician Richey James struggled with anorexia.
  • Franz Kafka, suffered from anorexia.
  • Businessman David Beckermert, a successful CEO and President of a billion-dollar Calgary oil and gas company, openly talked about his struggle with bulimia.

Celebrities Tell Their Real-Life Stories of Eating Disorders and Recovery

Men-Anorexia and social influence

Societal pressures to obtain the "ideal" body image are no longer gender specific. Men's magazines focussing on looks, fitness, and nutrition are as numerous as female magazines. Also television and movies saturate us with images of beautifully buildt men. The male body has become a sex object as much as the female body has been for decades.

Nowadays, men comprise over a quarter of all cosmetic surgery patients. Men as much as women are keen to have restrictive diets, cosmetic surgery, beauty treatments and whatever might be necessary to look the way they want.

Forum on anorexia


timmarlowgrace from Manchester on April 30, 2012:

Great article, hope this helps bring more awareness. From personal experience with manorexia it is a lonely road

Wendy Iturrizaga (author) from France on December 05, 2011:

SpiffyD: The emphasis on appearance is very strong in men, women and scarily enough even in children. Unfortunately now you can even see primary school children extremely worried about their image which I found very sad.

SpiffyD from The Caribbean on July 22, 2011:

Very interesting hub. The emphasis on appearance affects women more, but it certainly can and does affect males. It's easy to blame the advertising and media, but I believe there are simply not enough reinforcements. Good health and appearance go hand-in-hand sometimes, but function should not ever be sacrificed for form.

Wendy Iturrizaga (author) from France on July 07, 2011:

fucsia: yes, the practice of some competitive sports can trigger anorexia in men.

Jamie: thanks for sharing your experience. All the best on your way to a complete recovery from anorexia.

Jamie on July 02, 2011:

Thank you.

I'm a recovering anorexic, male of course. And I'm just exploring for information and positive disclosure.

Welcoming the unaware, absolutely heart felt. Keep doing what you're doing. Very useful.

Much respect, Jamie Mann.

Sun-Girl from Nigeria on May 21, 2011:

Great work princess,well written and properly packaged. THANKS DEAR FOR SHARING.

Video Rob on February 18, 2011:

Great hub, looks like you've really done your research

fucsia on December 02, 2010:

Perhaps, I think, in men because of their competitive nature, it is more likely that the eating disorder is caused by the practice of a sport, than women..

I do not know, is my thought.

However, it is very sad. In any case.

Nice work, very informative Hub

(I did not know that John Lennon was suffering from anorexia)

Marcel on July 29, 2010:

It is true. Often I thought it is a disease that concerns primairly women.

Due to this article I learned that I was as wrong as I could be.

Thanks to this article I have a renewed mind.

findoutmore on July 28, 2010:

The Channel Four Programme Supersize Vs. Superskinny are currently looking for people to take part in Series 4. Across the series we are hoping to follow a group of people who suffer from an eating disorder as they take part in an eight week treatment programme.

If you want help tackling your eating disorder then please get in touch. We are looking for people who are affected by anorexia, bulimia, laxative abuse, orthorexia, binge eating and obsessive compulsive disorder related to their eating habits. Participants will be supported by a fully qualified psychotherapist and nutritionist, both specialising in eating disorders, before, during and after their individually devised programmes.

If you would like to find out more please get in touch by email:

Wendy Iturrizaga (author) from France on July 20, 2010:

Ce'Ce: just let me know what you need.

Paula: thanks for sharing your story. I really wish I could help, you know better than anyone else what is it to cope with an ED, maybe you are the best qualified person to help your husband or at least to take him to a especialist, someone properly trained who can help him before is too late.

I wish you all the best for you and your family. If you can please DO keep as updated on how you are coping.

Paula on July 18, 2010:

It was years ago that i had gone thru this myself. Mine was due to stress be on my control and the only thing i could control was my intake of food. I am now 41 and healthy. I married 15 years ago to a not heavy man but healthy man, just in the past few years i have noticed how wanting to be like guys on magizines he has change. It is easy for someone who has been thru itto see it. Thou i have told him he is too thin as weel as others he laughs. To me it is changing our lives. He worksout 4 hours a day and eats only small meals.All the signs are there, how do i make him realize how he is hurting his family? When i went thru it i was younger and did not have children. How do you handle a 43 year old competing with guys in there 20's?

Thanks for the info!


Ce'Ce on May 21, 2010:

i am researching this for my project in High School and i was curious if you could help with the info??

I am researching this for my service learning:BTW.

Wendy Iturrizaga (author) from France on May 20, 2010:

Lovelypaper and Miss Nat: Thanks for your support.

Miss. Nat. Rose on May 20, 2010:

I myself have never suffered with an eating disorder. but i do feel very sorry for the people that do suffer with it must be very hard for all of you to deal with, don't suffer alone

Natalie x

Renee S from Virginia on April 27, 2010:

It's good that you have brought this important subject to light.

Wendy Iturrizaga (author) from France on April 26, 2010:

Megan: it is sad and dangerous, because these misconceptions stop men from getting help on time.

infinitenesmith: Eating disorders affect both men and women, it is just that most of the media has concentrated in ED in women and have ignored ED in men.

Sound of Me: thank you for your support.

Mamelody: you are welcome. I think this is a very important issue.

Vivek: Just trying to bring awareness to the topic.

Mamelody on March 25, 2010:

men have anorexia?? that is total news to me.. probably because where I come from men eat like pigs and they all have beer guts! very well written hub and another thing I've learnt today. Thanks princess

Sound of Me from United States on February 23, 2010:

Great hub! I also just wanted to point out that the somethingfishy forum link you posted isn't just for anorexia, but bulimia, compulsive overeating, binge eating, and EDNOS (eating disorders not otherwise specified), as well. I do believe, however, that there is a section on that board dedicated to males struggling with eating disorders. Eating disorders in general have such an innumerable amount of misconceptions surrounding them, and this is a biggie. Very informative!

infinitenesmith on January 14, 2010:

Thanks for the detailed an informative hub! As a woman who has struggled with eating problems in the past, I've really only read up on ED in relation to women. It's good to know that there are people out there spreading the word about these diseases and their effects on BOTH genders.

Megan on October 25, 2009:

great site. it's true. most people see anorexics as being woman only. it really is a sad thing.

D0N on July 28, 2009:

I know it's a matter of time before I die of not eating. No one sees what I'm going through. I always lie and tell them I ate. I want to die because my life has no meaning. I'm a nobody. My weight is the only thing that is important to me. That's the only thing I have control of because I have no control of anything else in my life. I'm just going through the motions of living when in fact I have no life worth living. I'll miss things but I know I went out doing something I was in control of that had a meaning to my life. This is not a crying out for help, and I don't care if anyone feels sorry for me. No one knows me or understands me at all. No one sees me, I'm not even a person to anyone. The best thing I can do for myself is to die doing something I believed in. That's all that matters to me. I don't want to eat or care to eat. It's my slow suicide to ending my life. They say life is beautiful but I never got a chance to see it. It's all been suffering and ugly to me. The more weight I lose the happier I am knowing that one day my suffering will come to an end.

Ana Boy on June 28, 2009:

this is not really how it is in real life, belive me. It's not nearly this "nice".

You can't sleep cuz ur hungry, u cant focus cuz u've got no energy. After a while you can't eaven keep on exercising cuz you faint every time cuz ur bodu just cant take it any more.

Wendy Iturrizaga (author) from France on June 17, 2009:

profitindex: Anorexia is a very real problem. People with anorexia can suffer a number of potentially fatal medical conditions, including heart disease, kidney and liver disease, and potassium and magnesium imbalances that can lead to heart failure.

In addition, they often suffer from osteoporosis, low blood pressure, ulcers, dizziness, irregular heart rhythm, headaches, and many other physical problems. Anorexic statistics indicate that they also experience anxiety, depression, and other psychological problems as well.

You should be thankful NOT to have this problem.

profitindex on June 17, 2009:

I am so darn fat I wish I had this problem.

Wendy Iturrizaga (author) from France on April 02, 2009:

Hi Grant, it is amazing how such an important issue is ignored at schools.

Hi Jane,you can find more direct information here:

Jane on April 02, 2009:

Heya, do you have a reference for the harvard study??

Grant Lawrence from BC on March 19, 2009:

Hi Princessa,

Nicely done....a subject not discussed schools. It seems to me that the beauty industry first dissected the female body and marketed solutions for each part of the body (eyes, lips, hair...) and perpetuated a myth on the ideal body shape. This has expanded slowly over the past 2-3 decades to marketing to men. Now living in a smaller town (having moved from a 1 m+ populated city) I heard for the first time on the radio an add directed to men about laser hair removal!

Perhaps we need to look closer at the social and demographic changes that have taken place over the past 40-50 years and arm families and boys/young men with knowledge and develop their intellect to make better decisions.


Wendy Iturrizaga (author) from France on March 17, 2009:

missesMask: thanks for sharing your experience. Awareness is one of the keys to help ED sufferers.

missesMask from Texas on March 17, 2009:

This is a very interesting hub. As a long-time sufferer of fluctuating bulimia nervosa and anorexia, I have always wondered how many men and boys suffered from the disorders as well. Though women are 8 times as likely to fall victim to these disorders, I'm sure there are more men out there who aren't being treated because they haven't told anyone, possibly due to shame that the social stigma provides them. This isn't a "girl's disease" it is a human emotional and psychological disorder that men and women actoss the globe suffer from for one reason or another, and it is something one cannot just "walk away" from at the drop of a hat. I really feel sorry for men and boys who suffer from this, possibly feeling less than a man because of the social stigma, and they probably don't get the help they so desperately need. Society needs to change the way it thinks about anorexia and bulimia.

Loved the post!

missesMask :)

Nicola on January 08, 2009:

ManifestDestiny i wan't to reply but i kinda can't and i dought you will read this, but i think thats sad! like you friends and your parents! TT-TT . I'm doing a grade 8 school speech on anorexia and i've looked up a bunch of stuff on it and yeah but not eating is terrible! like i eat alot but i don't get bigger so everyone says im anorexic but im not >0< but you should be eating bbecause the things anorexia can do are scary..

Wendy Iturrizaga (author) from France on October 10, 2008:

shyamchat and ManifestDestiny: Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Feel free to come back any time you need to. All the best!

shyamchat from Calcutta on August 07, 2008:

My father at his 89+ makes an interesting study.

He is thin....has been so almost throughout his life. He has remained fit by controlling his food intake and long hours of walk.He is having a little problems with aches and pains and have lost most of vision because glaumoma.But, his all other organs are fine.

At this age, he is obsessed with food intake quantity, has become underwight as a result of anorexia and is on the verge of physical weakness.He can easily eat heartily , continue having long walks and add 4 kgs to his 5'10" frame which weighs around 52 kgs !!

His problem arises from the fact that he believes eating less and less and less and less is the way to live long w/out 'life-style' diseases.Anorexia has given him a long life, but, kept him at the border-line of weakness for last 8 years or so.I also feel he ability to enjoy and have a 'let-go' attitude he should sport with his financial,family and health situations is missing.

Wendy Iturrizaga (author) from France on June 26, 2008:

Learn and Know: thanks for the link to some very interesting resources about dieting.

Jeedad: I hope it was useful, shared it with others as the key to help male anorexics is information.

Jeedad on June 26, 2008:

Really good hub and great informations!

Learn And Know on June 14, 2008:

The key for healthy life is balance don't do too much from anything

You can find more more about dieat at

Wendy Iturrizaga (author) from France on May 13, 2008:

wellness5: you are welcome. I hope more people becomes aware of this problem to help those who suffer from it.

wellness5 from Fondi, Italy on May 13, 2008:

It is true that big people will hang out with big people- similarly, skinny people will seek out appropriately sized friends . Great hub and thanks for talking about a subject that is not often mentioned.

Wendy Iturrizaga (author) from France on May 12, 2008:

I want to exercise my boobs: Hi, I visited your page, very interesting. I hope that it can help others with the same problem.

Also I want to thank you for bringing awareness of this problem to my hub.

Decrescendo on May 12, 2008:

Nice find. Thanks for the heads up

KatieB from New York on April 03, 2008:

Quite interesting list of celebrities! Thanks.

Wendy Iturrizaga (author) from France on March 03, 2008:


I think Americans are used to see 'bigger' people. I remember everybody remarking on how thin I was when I was living in NY. Yet, I was within my healthy weight! it was very frustrating.

It is true that men are "allowed" to have extra weigth without being thought as compulsive eaters. We tend to be more critical of women who over eat than of men. That is why it is important to rise awareness that eating disorders affect both sexes.

Jason Stanley on February 27, 2008:

Princessa, Great to get this conversation started. While you focused on anorexia you also mentioned compulsive eating which is significant problem with men.

One of the problems with male compulsive eating is men are considered "hardy" or "stout" or "powerful" when they really are overweight even medically obese. In our culture men are not seen as overweight until it is very noticeable such as a man who is 5'9" at 225 pounds. Even then he is not considered obese even though medically he would be. Women are often considered plump or overweight with just 10 to 15 pounds extra.

Many men I have talked to who are 80 or more pounds overweight want to get down to a weight that would have them medically still at least 40 pounds overweight. They say that any less and they would feel too thin.

I am 5'9", and at 155 pounds am right in the middle of the suggested healthy weight range. Yet most Americans tell me that I look too thin.

If a guy is overweight, chances are extremely good that he has a compulsive eating disorder (I call it the Food Monster). Unfortunately, he probably won't admit it and the culture supports it.


Wendy Iturrizaga (author) from France on February 20, 2008:

Rapidwriter: Thanks for your comment. I think that the more awareness on the disease the better will react to it. The more we know about it, the easier it would be to help our dearest ones who might be in danger.

It is important that health professionals stop with their misconceptions on anorexia and that patients and their families insist in adequate treatment.

Wendy Iturrizaga (author) from France on February 19, 2008:

Thanks Isabella, I hope it helps bring awareness.

Isabella Snow on February 18, 2008:

Wow, you never think about men having this problem. Good hub, Princessa!

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