Male Eating Disorders Are Surprisingly Common And Here's What They Look Like

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), 28.8 million Americans will struggle with some type of eating disorder throughout their lifetime. Next to opioid overdose, eating disorders are considered among the deadliest of mental illnesses. In fact, every 52 minutes, someone dies due to an eating disorder.

While there are a lot of reports on eating disorders, most studies that deliver this information are based on data gathered from white women, with very few participants from other ethnic groups or men. U.S. News reported that even though men account for 40% of all binge eating cases, only half of that number was studied during a nine year clinical trial on binge eating disorder from 2011 to 2020 — and the numbers are similar for anorexia and bulimia. Though men make up 19% of all anorexia and bulimia cases, less than 5% participated in those kinds of clinical trials.

Eating disorders are different for men

Stuart Murray, director of the Eating Disorders Program and the Translational Research in Eating Disorders Laboratory at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, told U.S. News that the ideal body for males looks different in comparison to the ideal body for females. This, coupled with the fact that women are overrepresented in clinical trials involving eating disorders, makes it difficult to pinpoint eating disorders in men.

While women with eating disorders typically seek to be thin, slender, and low-weight, the ideal body for men reflects one that is muscular, lean, and ripped. And the methods for achieving a muscular body are often very different than when striving for a thin body. Murray calls it muscularity-oriented disordered eating, and signs of it include obsessive behavior around counting protein, meal prepping, and eating on a schedule. Men with this disorder often experience anxiety if too much time passes between meals (as opposed to skipping meals) or if they feel like they haven't eaten enough protein.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).