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Eating disorders have long been associated with women. It is not common knowledge that they also affect men. When men do get affected, the condition is worse than their women counterparts. And it goes beyond eating disorder.


There are over 8 million cases of eating disorders in the US and UK. In the Philippines, extrapolated statistics places the number of cases to about 1.5 million. Approximately 10% of them are men. However, experts agree that this could be an underestimation.

There are three major types of eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa (Latin: lack of desire to eat) is usually characterized by self-starvation due to an unrealistic fear of weight gain and a distorted view of body image. Bulimia (Latin: extreme hunger) on the other hand involves periodic consumption of large amounts of food followed by induced vomiting or abuse of laxatives and diuretics. Binge-eating disorder is the uncontrolled or compulsive desire to overeat followed by strict diet regimens.

Reverse Anorexia. Reverse anorexia is an eating disorder that does not meet the criteria for any specific eating disorder and is difficult to diagnose. It is also known as Bigorexia or Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). While anorexia affects mostly females and is characterized by excessive weight loss, BDD affects mostly males and is about excessive muscle building. People who suffer from this condition always feel they are thin even though they are already above the ideal body mass index in muscle mass. The use of anabolic steroids is not uncommon.

Causes. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, the bottom line in eating disorders is a distorted view of body image. The role of mass media has been identified as one of the causes. In a society that promotes the lean and fit as the ideal form as exemplified by the ads in TV, billboard, and magazines, other body forms become less favored socially. Individuals seeking peer affirmation and acceptance readily engage in unhealthy eating habits to conform to what the society dictates.

The family is a smaller social unit but can exert the same or even a stronger pressure. Parents who overemphasize fitness to unreasonable extent especially during the formative years contribute to the development of eating disorders.

Traumatic experiences like physical, emotional, or sexual abuse are also identified as causes.

Worse in Men. Men are not readily diagnosed with eating disorders since they generally won’t admit it. When they do come for consultation, doctors usually fail to diagnose them correctly and consider their condition as a depressive episode or a part of a mood disorder.

In general, females have more body fats than males. When women lose a lot of weight, most of it is fat and this does not create so much health problems unless the loss is extreme. In men with eating disorders, weight loss is mainly due to muscle wasting. This poses a more serious impact to the general health than fat loss.

Recognizing the signs. It is easy to identify men with possible eating disorders, although diagnosing them is another story. Common signs include an obsession with their weight and body form, very restricted diet with caloric intake below the recommended daily requirement, episodes of self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives, and body weight that is noticeably below the ideal. For BDD, the same obsession is evident but focused on body-building, high-protein intake, and weight that is way above the ideal. These are the people who remind you of the Incredible Hulk.
It takes a lot more than pep talk to address the underlying causes of eating disorders. If you feel you may be suffering from an eating disorder or know someone who does, seek professional help right away.

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