The awareness of eating disorders in males is growing. The behavioral characteristics of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder in men are similar to those of women. Like women, males with anorexia will develop symptoms of weight loss and fear of weight gain. With bulimia and binge eating disorder men and women both develop binge eating symptoms with or without compensatory behavior to purge food. Again, like women, males with eating disorders also are at increased risk for depression, anxiety disorders and alcohol and substance abuse.
Important differences exist between males and females with eating disorders. Studies show that males are less likely to seek help for emotional problems in general, and this is true among those with an eating disorder. Because eating disorders are typically seen as “female problems,” males are often even more reluctant to seek help, often struggling for years before seeking aid. However, delaying treatment can reduce treatment effectiveness and increase the risk of depression and problems with school, work and relationships.
Males with eating disorders often do not want to simply lose weight; they tend to focus on developing a more muscular physical shape. Males with eating disorders typically become preoccupied with how muscular they are physically and a male’s eating disorder may begin with compulsive exercising in addition to dieting. Historically, males who participate in athletic activities with a high degree of emphasis on weight and shape, including wrestling and gymnastics have an increased risk of developing eating disorders.
Eating and body image problems in males do not always clearly fit into a specific category of eating disorders. Compulsive exercisers (in which exercise becomes like an addiction) will often become anxious if they cannot exercise. They tend to feel frustrated and believe they have “not exercised enough” rather than a sense of well-being following. This feeling prompts them to exercise, rather than spend time with family or friends. As a result individuals may see decreased work performance or damaged relationships.