There should be more awareness for men with eating disorders

“Everything Now,” directed by Charlie Manton, Alyssa McClelland, Laura Steinel and Dionne Edwards. “To the Bone,” written and directed by Marti Noxon. “The Longest Match” by Betsy Brenner. “Wintergirls” by Laurie Halse Anderson. 

What do these all have in common? They are all pieces that focus on female eating disorders. But where is the representation for men?

Conversations regarding body image and social media have skyrocketed along with the popularity of apps. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg was recently under fire for his platforms causing harm to young people. It is proven that technology can not always be helpful towards people’s minds, but these discussions seldom mention the effect social media has on boys and men.

According to The New York Times, “For decades, eating disorders were thought to afflict mostly, if not exclusively, women and girls.” Anorexia is most often portrayed in the media through female characters.

Recent studies have shown that although the symptoms and behaviors may present differently, boys and men can most definitely have eating disorders, too, and the number is growing.

We definitely need to be more educated on this subject, so that we can be aware when the boys and men in our life are struggling. 

Dr. Sarah Smith, an eating disorder specialist and child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Toronto, found “sharp increases in the rates of hospitalizations for boys with eating disorders” in a study published by the National Library of Medicine. 

The reason for this can be linked directly to social media. Boys and men see unrealistic bodies on Instagram and TikTok just as much as any other gender. Defined back muscles, a six-pack of abs, videos of influencers lifting enormous loads of weight on the bench press, it goes on and on. 

Dr. Jason Nagata, also an eating disorder specialist and a pediatrician at the University of California, San Francisco, explains that “there’s increasing recognition, particularly in the last decade or so, that some people with body image dissatisfaction are not trying to lose weight at all.” 

In the book, “Eating Disorders in Boys and Men,” edited by Dr. Nagata, he finds that “some men and boys are trying to become large and muscular. In fact, one-third of teenage boys across the United States report that they’re trying to bulk up and get more muscular. And a subset of those may develop eating disorders or muscle dysmorphia that can lead to significant psychological distress and physical health complications.”

Of course, a lot of boys bulk up for sports seasons, but a lot of them are doing it to look like the men on their social media feeds. Even if it is for sports, men are encouraged to change their bodies to the point that it’s normalized.

I once knew a boy that went from 130 pounds to 106 pounds in an extremely short amount of time, only to fit into a different weight class for wrestling. It was the coach’s idea. 

I know another man who feels less of himself when he misses a day in the gym because everyone else on social media is so buff that he thinks they certainly don’t take days off.

The names of these men will be omitted here because I’m sure they’d be embarrassed — which is a whole different stigma in men. They cannot show how they’re feeling, cannot confide in people when they don’t feel good about themselves, and people would rather watch them develop eating disorders than normalize men feeling emotions. 

We definitely need to be more educated on this subject, so that we can be aware when the boys and men in our life are struggling. 

Dr. Nagata said it best himself. “We need to raise awareness of eating disorders and body image issues in boys because it’s been traditionally so underrecognized, underdiagnosed and undertreated. I think it’s also important to note that eating disorders can affect people of all genders, races, sexual orientations, ages and sizes.”


Featured photo courtesy of Andrew Neel, Pexels