Today marks the start of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week for 2018. The theme this year is “Let’s Get Real”. I’m honored to take a very small part in advocating for those who struggle with eating disorders by sharing with you some information about and stories from men who struggle with eating disorders.
In America, one-third of individuals with an eating disorder are male, though boys and men are thought to be under-diagnosed given the stigma males face in regard to help-seeking. Binge-eating disorder is the most often diagnosed disorder among males, though they can exhibit many subclinical disordered eating behaviors such as over-exercise to achieve a body ideal and dieting, purging or using laxatives to lose weight.
Though we read a lot about the objectification of women and the incredibly harmful impact it has on girls’ and women’s self-esteem, we often overlook the fact that objectification of men in the media also contributes to low self-worth. For men attuned to such images, lean and muscular is the ideal. Those who cannot attain it (which is nearly everyone but a tiny fraction of individuals who are genetically predisposed to this body type or spend hours working out on their own or with trainers) are made to feel less-than. The same lie that is sold to women through the thinness ideal is sold to men in the muscularity ideal, namely that being lean and muscular will make you more masculine (“more of a man”), more successful, and happier.
In 2007, when I was conducting interviews for my book, I spoke to two men who struggled with Binge-Eating Disorder. Both talked about their disappointment in themselves for not being able to maintain a certain body type or weight or eat in moderation. One called himself “big boned” as a child, but noted that his self-perception changed negatively over time. Another noted he realized in college he was “way too chubby”. Both men got caught in the cycle of weighing themselves, perceiving the number to be too high, attempting to diet or cut back, experiencing cravings, giving in to a craving, overeating, and feeling ashamed. The shame then sparked renewed commitment to dieting and the cycle continued.
We, as a society, need to notice when our boys start talking about their weight and shape. We need to educate them, as we are starting to do with our girls, that body weight and shape have no relation to self-worth. We need to teach them that masculinity has nothing to do with being “tough” or having a certain body shape. We need to teach them how to mindfully listen to their body’s needs, trusting their bodies to self-regulate. We need to teach age-appropriate emotion vocabulary so boys and young men can express their feelings. We need to teach healthy ways to cope with disappointment, perceived failure, anger, and sadness. Eating disorder prevention is a community affair. We all need to come together in order for sustainable change to occur. Let’s Get Real. Let’s create a society in which all body types are accepted and boys and men are free to be themselves instead of wasting their potential trying to achieve a false ideal sold by the diet and fitness industry.
(Statistics and information gathered from: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/research-on-males)