With present day culture promoting a kind of hyper body awareness, increasing numbers of men are now coming forward to seek help with eating disorders and body image difficulties. Men are affected by all forms of eating disorders (Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, emotional eating and OFSED). Males of any age can develop an eating disorder but they are most likely to begin between 14 and 25 – it is not unusual to have an eating disorder in middle age. This increased likelihood could be related to life transitions.
Despite comparatively little research being carried out on eating disorders in men, it does seem apparent that many of the commonly known risk factors are applicable. In particular the role of eating disorders being a coping mechanism, or an expression of, underlying emotional stress (for both men and women).This means any unresolved distress presents a risk to developing eating problems.
There are also a number of other risk factors:
- Being overweight and/or teased about size. Bullying seems to be a common experience for adults as well as children.
- Dieting – one of the most powerful eating disorder triggers in both males and females.
- Participation in a sport that demands a particular body build (thin or muscular). Runners or jockeys are at higher risk of developing an anorexia and bulimia, while footballers or weight lifters will focus on getting bigger (known as ‘Bigorexia’). Wrestlers or boxers who drop pounds quickly before a match so as to compete in a lower weight category seem to be at special risk. Body builders are at risk if they deplete body fat and fluid reserves to achieve high definition.
- Having a job or profession that demands thinness. For example male models, actors, and general entertainers are at a higher risk than the general population.
- Some, but not all, male sufferers can be gay or bisexual. There is an ongoing discussion around why the gay and bisexual male community is at particular risk but this may be partly because they are judged on attractiveness in the same way that women are in the heterosexual community. Fear of coming out and worry about rejection is also a possibility. However, it is possible that gay men are more likely to seek help than their straight male counterparts due to a culture of male inexpressiveness around emotions.
- Cultural influences such as fixed dieting and a focus on physical appearance. Weight loss and workout programmes as well as cosmetic surgery procedures, whose goal is chiselled muscularity can lead to the same sort of body dissatisfaction that afflicts women who read fashion magazines.
Treatment will always be individually tailored to suits the needs of each person.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
CBT will be used to address and challenge negative thinking patterns and beliefs. These will be focused on and challenged in order to help develop a healthier and more positive relationship with their body. Other areas of work will often focus on reduction of reassurance seeking behaviours, body checking behaviours, building distress tolerance and emotional regulation work.
Other models used may be: Compassion Focused Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mindfulness and Cognitive Analytic Techniques.