A prevailing stereotype suggests that only women and girls are affected by eating disorders, but recent studies reveal the truth – that men too are susceptible to developing serious conditions such as anorexia and bulimia.
Data has come to light showing that the number of men diagnosed with an eating disorder has risen by 27% since 2000.
According to the eating disorder charity beat, it is estimated that men make up anywhere between 10 – 25% of the 1.6 million sufferers in the UK, although the true figure is believed to be much higher.
Many interpret these figures as a reflection of increased societal pressures on men to take better care of their appearance, but others believe we are simply just getting better at recognising the signs of eating disorders in men.
We have been preconditioned to expect that only women suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia, which is 10 times more common in women than in men. As a result, in the past we have turned a blind eye to such conditions affecting men.
Nadia Micali, a senior lecturer at the Behavioural and Brain Sciences Unit at University College London says:
“One of our concerns is that diagnostic criteria for eating disorders are entirely based on female traits.
“To get an anorexia diagnosis, you need to be afraid of getting fat. But masculine concerns can include wanting a lean or defined physique, and males who become fixated with achieving that by excessive use of supplements, hormones or starvation may be dismissed by doctors.”
A further issue is that many men showing signs of an eating disorder are too ashamed to speak up and get help.
Sufferers have reported symptoms ranging from mild disbelief to outward aggression, and are often accused of being attention seeking.
Ultimately, the reality is that eating disorders are not gender specific – nor are they specific to a certain class, region, ethnicity or age.
They are a psychological problem, and more awareness needs to be raised to ensure they are recognised as such, and not as a personal weakness or ‘fault’.