Strategies for Prevention and Early Intervention of Male Eating Disorders
Recognize that eating disorders do not discriminate on the basis of gender. Men can and do develop eating disorders.
Learn about eating disorders and know the warning signs. Become aware of your community resources (treatment centers, self-help groups, etc.). Consider implementing an Eating Concerns Support Group in a school, hospital, or community setting to provide interested young men with an opportunity to learn more about eating disorders and to receive support. Encourage young men to seek professional help if necessary.
Understand that athletic activities or professions that necessitate weight restriction (e.g., gymnastics, track, swimming, wrestling, rowing) put males at risk for developing eating disorders. Male wrestlers, for example, present with a higher rate of eating disorders than the general male population. Coaches need to be aware of and disallow any excessive weight control or body building measures employed by their young male athletes.
Talk with young men about the ways in which cultural attitudes regarding ideal male body shape, masculinity, and sexuality are shaped by the media. Assist young men in expanding their idea of “masculinity” to include such characteristics as caring, nurturing, and cooperation. Encourage male involvement in traditional “non-masculine” activities such as shopping, laundry, and cooking.
Demonstrate respect for gay men, and men who display personality traits or who are involved in professions that stretch the limits of traditional masculinity; e.g., men who dress colorfully, dancers, skaters, etc.
Never emphasize body size or shape as an indication of a young man’s worth or identity as a man. Value the person on the “inside” and help him to establish a sense of control in his life through self-knowledge and expression rather than trying to obtain control through dieting or other eating disordered behaviors.
Confront others who tease men who do not meet traditional cultural expectations for masculinity. Confront anyone who tries to motivate or “toughen up” young men by verbally attacking their masculinity; e.g., calling names such as “sissy” or “wimp.”
Listen carefully to a young man’s thoughts and feelings, take his pain seriously, allow him to become who he is.
Validate a young man’s strivings for independence and encourage him to develop all aspects of his personality, not only those that family and/or culture find acceptable. Respect a person’s need for space, privacy, and boundaries. Be careful about being overprotective. Allow him to exercise control and make his own decisions whenever possible, including control over what and how much he eats, how he looks, and how much he weighs.
Understand the crucial role of the father and other male influences in the prevention of eating disorders. Find ways to connect young men with healthy male role models.
Prevalence figures for males with eating disorders (ED) are somewhat elusive. In the past, ED have been characterized as “women’s problems” and men have been stigmatized from coming forward or have been unaware that they could have an ED. Additional research is needed, but several studies provide insight into the male experience of eating disorders. Learn more.
Anorexia Nervosa is a severe, life-threatening disorder in which the individual refuses to maintain a minimally normal body weight, is intensely afraid of gaining weight, and exhibits a significant distortion in the perception of the shape or size of his body, as well as dissatisfaction with his body shape and size. Learn more.
Bulimia nervosa is a severe, life-threatening disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting or other purging methods (e.g. laxatives, diuretics, excessive exercise, fasting) in an attempt to avoid weight gain. Learn more.
Binge eating disorder is a severe, life-threatening disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of compulsive overeating or binge eating. In binge eating disorder, the purging in an attempt to prevent weight gain that is characteristic of bulimia nervosa is absent. Learn more.
Recognize that bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. There is no one "right" body size. Your body is not, and should not be, exactly like anyone else's. Try to see your body as a facet of your uniqueness and individuality. Learn more.