Typically, eating disorders are perceived to be illnesses which solely affect women, with the most common association being with young teenage girls. This is a grave, but widespread assumption and the fact is anyone can suffer from an eating disorder, including people of any age, race, social background, sexuality and indeed gender.
Eating disorders are serious emotional and physical illnesses in which sufferers use food and sometimes exercise in different ways to manage difficult circumstances in their lives and the feelings that come with them. It is important to remember that food and weight is not necessarily the problem, it is the embedded in the underlying factors which can be low self-esteem and lack of self worth.
Sufferers will use their eating disorder as a coping mechanism to be able to get from one day to the next and/or through times when they feel unable to cope.
The commonality between anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorders, compulsive eating/exercising and ‘bigorexia’ (muscle dysmorphia) is that people use them as strategies for dealing with difficult life situations and/or emotions which they feel are beyond their control.
Anorexia (nervosa), or ‘Manorexia’ as dubbed in the press for males, is an illness in which you continually diet and starve yourself. You may be frightened of putting on weight and act this out by restricting your food and drink intake. You may also binge, vomit, use laxatives or exercise excessively in order to control your weight.
Bulimia (nervosa) is a condition which a sufferer will eat a large amount of food, many hundreds of calories, quickly and without control. In some cases the issue is not the amount of food but the secretive, hurried and shameful way it is eaten. In bulimia, their binges will follow by an attempt to compensate their behaviours most commonly by making themselves vomit (purge). Sometimes a sufferer will deliberately starve themselves, take laxatives or use diuretics. This forms a bulimic cycle in which they may carry out this behaviour on a daily basis, once in a while, or consistently over a number of months or years.
Similar to bulimia, someone who experiences binge eating disorder will binge but do not compensate their behaviours. They experience the same emptiness that someone who has bulimia does, but will retain what they have eaten, which will usually make them overweight/obese.
EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified)
EDNOS may be diagnosed to individuals who clearly have symptoms of disordered eating, but do not fit the diagnostic criteria for anorexia or bulimia.
EDNOS could mean many things: it may mean that someone has the symptoms of anorexia such as restrictive thinking and using food as a punishment or by not eating their favourite foods as they feel they don’t deserve them. It can also mean either spoiling the food through over seasoning or only feeling that they can eat when they have exercised or will in the near future. They can still maintain the weight of a ‘healthy’ person but have no pleasure in food and can view it as an evil necessity.
There are two types of exercise disorders: compulsive and ‘bigorexia’ (also known as ’Muscle Dysmorphia’). Please read both definitions as there are some overlaps between the two.
What you must keep in mind with anyone who is a compulsive exerciser or ‘bigorexic’ will take exercise to the extreme and in many cases push themselves to a limit, which is beyond healthy and often beyond their own physical abilities but they cannot resist the compulsion. This can result in a hatred of exercise even though they cannot stop.
Men with eating disorders may not always recognise their symptoms and therefore it can take a long time for them to seek the help they need. It is common for someone affected by an eating disorder to deny it and they may refuse to acknowledge anything is wrong if someone tries to confront them about it.
If you have or think you may have an eating disorder, it’s important that you consider speaking to someone about it. Telling someone for the first time can be a huge relief. The chances are you are bottling up your feelings and hiding from your friends, family, or you’re partner. By being open it might help you to think about what your next steps are and be supported by those around you.
Whoever you decide to talk to, it will help you to make the next step – whatever that may be for you. Remember you are not alone.
For further information and support, Male Survivors Partnership have teamed up with the NHS who have produced a range of superb self help guides covering a range of mental health issues and subjects. The publications we thought were suitable for this page include:
- Eating Disorders
- Food for Thought
- Obsessions and Compulsions
To download a copy of any of the Self Help Guides click here