National Eating Disorders Association

5 Myths About Men with Eating Disorders

Jason Deng

In his song with Lil Wayne, “Nothing But Trouble,” Charlie Puth sings, “These Instagram models are nothing but trouble.” The song’s about the dangers of judging a book by its cover (i.e. judging someone by their IG pics). It’s about the unhealthy emphasis our generation places on physical appearance. And it’s primarily about women. 

But men also struggle with looking “attractive.” Whether that’s trying to be a thin “hipster” or a sculpted “jock,” it’s a legitimate struggle. And sometimes, that struggle comes with hours obsessing over your reflection in a car window, counting calories only to spit them back out, feeling uncomfortable in your skin but wanting nothing more than to retreat into it. That’s how it was for me.

Unfortunately, when eating disorders come up in the news, it’s rarely about men. But men DO struggle with EDs, and when they do, it sucks every bit as much as it does when a woman struggles. It’s important that people are aware of this. Here are five common myths about men with EDs to help clear the air:

1. Anorexia is a girl’s disease.

No, it’s not. A 2012 GQ article noted that recent studies suggest that 20%—even 30%—of anorexics are male. Framing EDs as a female-only disease is the quickest way to isolate men with EDs and prevent them from getting help.

2. Men don’t/shouldn’t care about how they look. 

Because of all the pressure on women to look “pretty,” people automatically assume that men don’t care about how they look. Worse yet, that assumption enforces a notion that men shouldn’t care about how they look, or that at least their attractiveness should be effortless. But it isn’t.

3. Dieting is something only women do. 

While I was struggling with my body image, one feeling that I acutely got was that only women are allowed to care about eating healthy. Men are supposed to be “chill” with eating pizzas three times a day, seven days a week. Going on a “diet” to become healthy is “unmanly.” This simply isn’t true, and anyone can tell you that pizza all day every day is the quickest way to clogging your arteries. Men, like women, can and should care (within reason) about what they eat.  

4. The manly way to lose weight is to exercise.

This goes hand-in-hand with myth #3. While men may be criticized for dieting, they can only be praised for exercising. Sayings like, “be a man,” not only hinder a man’s emotional capacity but also suggest to him that as long as he is a “strong man,” then he is doing something right. But overexercising can not only leave you injury-prone, it can even result in organ failure.

5. It’s possible and healthy to look like fitness models. 

It doesn’t take long to find the fitness models on Instagram. Terms like “dedication” and “willpower” dominate the captions, and if you buy this supplement, then you TOO can look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unfortunately, the fitness industry is full of lies. Most male models can only look the way they do by turning to drugs, even though none will ever admit it, since it’s more profitable to say their physique is the result of purely “hard work.” It’s no wonder that “bigorexia,” also known as muscle dysmorphia, is becoming increasingly prevalent.

Charlie probably wasn’t thinking of EDs when he wrote those lyrics, but he did get a couple of things right. The emphasis on physical appearance is trouble. It’s literally killing us: women AND men. 

Jason is a biology pre-med student at the University of Chicago with a passion for mental and physical health advocacy. Outside of class, he co-leads a physical health student group and trains peer supporters to create a more connected campus.

This piece was originally published on, NEDA's online community for young adults.