The phrase “eating disorders” typically invokes visions of painfully thin women staring vacantly from glossy magazines or strutting down runways. I personally find the glamorization of excessively thin women tragic and demeaning. Through it, we are buying into a stereotype of women as weak, vulnerable and incapable of nourishing their bodies and souls. In my experience, this view of women is not just untrue and unglamorous – it’s completely unacceptable.
I’ve also found that while our society and culture has made advances in acknowledging eating disorders exist among women and girls, the topic of eating disorders among men and adolescent boys remains taboo. It’s not that eating disorders don’t exist among males. It’s just that as a society and culture we’re not quite ready to acknowledge and openly discuss them.
But just because something isn’t openly discussed, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. As a clinician who works in the field of addictions, I see day in and day out how adolescent boys and grown men eat in destructive and distorted ways.
And my clinical observations are supported by scientific data that show 1 out of every 10 people who suffer from disordered eating is male. Typically these males eat in an attempt to anaesthetize painful emotions or to establish a sense of control of their lives. The 2 most common types of disordered eating for males are binge eating, whereby they consume large quantities of food, and binging and purging, whereby they eat large quantities of food and then vomit the food back out.
We also know that for both males and females distorted eating patterns begin in early adolescence. For both genders, adolescence is an incredibly turbulent time during which we establish our identities in the world that surrounds us. Too often adolescents define themselves in relation to unhealthy role models and body types. For girls we know these body types are based on emaciated models. For boys these body types are based on muscular and cut physiques that are unnaturally induced or impossible to sustain.
If we want our adolescents to grow into healthy adults, we must begin talking about healthy body images and healthy sustainable eating for both boys and girls. We must debunk the stereotype that places women in the role of weak and vulnerable beings who need to be protected by overly developed muscular males. As long as we remain silent about the existence of eating disorders among all genders, we will remain trapped in destructive patterns of relating to others and ourselves.
Never forget that we have the power to change not just our individual lives, but also the society and culture that surrounds us. Acknowledge that male eating disorders exist and open up a conversation about them today. By so doing you will open up a channel of healing for our society, our children and ourselves.