Eating disorders in men are on the rise. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, an estimated 10-15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that 1/3 of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals fasting, and taking laxatives.
A new study from the University of Montreal researched the similarities between male and female anorexia in order to improve awareness of the disorder as it presents in males. The study found that behavioral symptoms are similar between males and females, but that male symptoms in particular seem to be related to personality, gender identification, and sexual orientation. The study also found, according to Nauert (2014), that although males and females seem to share the same fears about weight gain, body image dissatisfaction for males was more connected to muscle mass. For males, excessive exercise was more common that other rituals such as restricting food and vomiting.
Nauert further reports that the rate of homosexuality among study participants was higher than the general population, leading researchers to hypothesize that anorexia may delay the processing of questioning sexual orientation and restrictive food behaviors may delay sexual maturation.
Further research must be done to fully understand anorexia in males and the special issues that create anxiety and stress in the male population. To support men who are struggling with eating disorders, some treatment centers, Center for Discovery among them, have committed to providing treatment options and programming for males who are suffering from an eating disorder.
Nauert, R. (2014). Study probes anorexia in males. PsychCentral, retrieved from www.psychcentral.com
National Eating Disorders Association: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders: www.anad.org
What Accounts for the Rise of Eating Disorders in Midlife?
We often think of eating disorders as illnesses that afflict adolescents and young adults. A 2012 study sheds light on the alarming prevalence of eating disorders in women 50 and over: 13% experience eating disorder symptoms, 60% report that their body image concerns negatively affect their lives, and 70% are actively trying to lose weight.
What accounts for the rise in eating disorders at midlife? According to an article from AARP, menopause echoes puberty with regard to the physical and psychological changes women experience.
We are overwhelmed with advice about healthy eating, clean foods, and cleansing diets almost daily. Some people take this information to heart and begin a special diet meant to improve overall health or add or remove certain foods from their diets to improve a health condition. While it’s true that there are many foods that are considered particularly healthy or therapeutic for certain conditions, it is important to pay attention to when healthy eating is taken too far. In fact, there is a name for healthy eating that becomes an obsession: orthorexia nervosa.
The term orthorexia was named by Dr. Stephen Bratman to describe his own personal experiences with food (Kratina, n.d.). The term literally means “fixation on righteous eating” and is characterized by rigid attachment to food quality and purity. People who struggle with orthorexia become fixated on maintaining very strict diets. For example, a person who takes up a raw or vegan diet may become addicted to maintaining strict eating habits- which can ultimately, and ironically, result in health consequences.
It is important to understand that orthorexia is not considered an eating disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-V). While individuals struggling with anorexia or bulimia have a focus on weight loss and calories, those with orthorexia become obsessed with healthy eating. And it is when healthy eating becomes an all-consuming activity that an individual is considered to be orthorexic.
Orthorexia is supremely isolating. Important social interactions occur around meals, and individuals who are focused on extremely rigid food habits often may withdraw and prefer to eat alone because of the anxiety they feel around foods that may not fit into their diet.
Orthorexia is a disordered eating pattern that can have serious health consequences. Recovery includes therapy and consultation with a registered dietitian to assess current eating habits and address the individual’s inaccurate beliefs about healthy eating (Marcason, 2013).
Kratina, K.(n.d.). Orthorexia nervosa. National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved from www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.
Marcason, W. (2013). Orthorexia: An obsession with eating “pure.” Retrieved from www.eatright.org.
Center for Discovery has been providing specialized eating disorder treatment to teens and adolescents for over 17 years, and we know how challenging recovery can be. Parents often feel helpless and alone as they struggle to find a way to help their child. Thankfully, there are resources available for parents and families who are caring for a young person with an eating disorder. With the right support, families can face the eating disorder together with strength and hope.
Pelz (n.d.) outlines six ways to survive a teen’s eating disorder, providing guidelines for parents who are trying to navigate this challenging illness:
- Don’t blame yourself: There are many reasons why a teen can develop an eating disorder. Family dynamics are not the primary cause.
- Learn as much as you can: Eating disorders are mysterious illnesses. Lean on your teen’s treatment team, ask questions, and read up on the latest research. There are also many good books that provide knowledge and support for those caring for a loved one with an eating disorder.
- Take stock of family patterns that may be reinforcing the problem: Again, this does not mean blame yourself. Instead, it means that this is a good time to discover what expectations, communication styles, and family perspectives on weight and exercise could be reinforcing the disorder. Family therapy is a safe place to discuss and challenge these dynamics.
- You are going to make mistakes: Talking to a teen with an eating disorder can be impossible at times. Keep trying, and practice what you want to say. Sometimes things will come out wrong. Still, keep trying. Recovery is a long process with many opportunities for growth for everyone.
- Eating disorder recovery is a marathon, not a sprint: Everyone is different, and therefore everyone’s recovery journey is different. Recovery can take years. It is important for families to pace themselves and take the process one day at a time. Self-care is also very important- take time to take care of you and recharge your body, mind, and soul.
- Get support: Take advantage of parent support groups, online forums, individual counseling, books, and family and friends to help get you through this time. Don’t go it alone. There are many, many resources for families and all of them are a beacon of hope.
With the right support, families can thrive during the process of a teen’s eating disorder recovery. For more information and to receive valuable support as you care for your teen, please visit Center for Discovery at www.centerfordiscovery.com. There you will find a parent guide, treatment options, and a wealth of information about eating disorders. You may also visit the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org and download a Parent Toolkit.
Pelz, A. (n.d.). 6 ways to survive your teen’s eating disorder. PsychCentral: Learn, Share, Grow. Retrieved from www.psychcentral.com