Men with eating disorders?

Dear Alice:

Is it possible for a male to have an eating disorder? I mean, I know it's possible, but I've never heard of any documented cases. All I've seen are connected to females.


Dear Wondering,

Yes, both boys and men can and do suffer from eating disorders. In fact, disordered eating and eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. You raise a great question, though; all too often eating disorders in boys and men are much less talked about than in girls and women. Health care providers are also less likely to diagnose males with an eating disorder compared to females and there are also fewer resources available for boys and men who wish to get help with their condition. Additionally, eating disorders aren't only diagnosed within the gender binary. Those who are trans can also develop eating disorders, and trans children and young adults are even more likely to report an eating disorder than cisgender children and young adults. 

In recent years, there has been increased attention (and research) given to this topic. More recent studies on the topic indicate that as many as 25 percent of patients with anorexia or bulimia were male and that men accounted for almost 40 percent of binge eating cases. While anyone can both experience eating disorders, men are often trying to change their physical appearance for different reasons than women, including:

  • A desire to improve athletic performance.
  • A history of being teased, criticized, or picked on for being overweight or underweight.
  • Wanting to change a specific body part (to reduce "flab" and promote muscle definition).
  • To make the required weight for a specific sport (i.e., wrestling or crew).
  • To be more attractive to a potential partner.

In addition, it’s important to note that while women with eating disorders are often concerned about their weight, men tend to focus more on achieving a particular body type, such as being muscular or lean. One example of this is a disorder known as megarexia, a term used to describe an individual who is obsessed with increasing their muscle size. Men are more likely than women to have megarexia, which also goes by the names muscle dysmorphia or bigorexia. These individuals exhibit many of the same symptoms of other more well-known eating disorders, such as a very restricted diet, preoccupation with food and body weight, and a history of low-self esteem. 

If someone is possibly suffering from anorexia, or any eating disorder, it's recommended they make an appointment with a trusted health care provider. While recovery is difficult, it's certainly not impossible, especially if you have the right support around you. 

Take care,

Last updated Nov 18, 2022
Originally published Sep 01, 1994

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