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Women are not the only ones falling victim to obsessive pursuit of the "perfect body" approximately 10% of patients diagnosed with an eating disorder are male.
"Most people do not automatically suspect anorexia when they see a very thin man," says Jana Rosenbaum, LMSW-ACP, with the Baylor College of Medicine Eating Disorders Program in Houston. "Physicians might not make the proper diagnosis, because males are not always seen as being at risk."
Fat as weakness
Because this group is less likely to seek professional help, the number of male anorexics, bulimics, and binge eaters is probably higher than reported, Rosenbaum suggests. As society continues to idealize a strong muscular physique, many males equate fat with weakness.
"Typically, males who develop an eating disorder start off with a weight problem," she says. "They try to diet, it doesn't work and they restrict their food even more. For those who are predisposed to eating disorders, starting a weight-loss diet can trigger the process."
About 45% of binge eaters are men. Eating for emotional reasons, they consume large amounts of food in short periods of time, feel out of control, and are usually ashamed of their actions.
Bulimics also consume large amounts of food, but their binging is followed by purging. Unlike female bulimics who turn to self-induced vomiting or laxatives abuse, male bulimics often purge through excessive exercise. Anorexia, or self-starvation, is the least diagnosed disorder.
Signs of trouble
There are several signs that can signal a potential problem: extreme weight loss, social isolation, avoiding situations where food is the focus, and visits to the bathroom after meals. An individual with an eating disorder might also develop unusual rituals about where or how they eat.
While an overall better body image among males keeps the number with eating disorders low, this group is not totally immune to societal pressure to shape up.
"One of the core issues in people with eating disorders is the desire to establish a better sense of self," says Rosenbaum. "They feel more in control if they can work out harder than anyone else and they feel more powerful if they can abstain from eating while others are indulging."