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Men not immune to eating disorders

Exponent article by Dr Brian Kassar
Counseling & Psychological Services

As many as 1 million men in the U.S. suffer from eating disorders, and men's dissatisfaction with their body image has tripled over the last 30 years. Often thought to be more of a "women's issue," the occurrence of men with body image/eating disorders is quickly coming to light.

These issues in men frequently go unnoticed for several reasons. Men often don't want to talk about them because of the guilt, shame, or embarrassment they feel about having what they believe is a "feminine" problem. Eating disorders and body image issues in men go unnoticed by others because of this bias, as well as the fact that men who have these problems often look healthy or "in-shape."

Men with body image issues often have intense fears of gaining weight or have "muscle dysphoria," which means they fear that they are too skinny or non-muscular. To deal with this, they may work out excessively, use steroids, or develop rigid dietary rules or restrictions. This often leads to fasting (associated with anorexia) or purging (associated with bulimia). Purging can include self-induced vomiting, as well as intense or excessive exercise following a meal or overeating. Men in pursuit of the perfect body may also use steroids or supplements such as creatine to increase muscle mass.

As with women, the mass media is a major culprit in fueling men's quest for perfection. The male form in the media has become increasingly more muscular. The original GI Joe of 1964 would be 5'10," have a 32" waist, a 44" chest, and a 12" bicep if he were a real person. The GI Joe of 1991 would be the same height, only his waist has reduced to 29" and his chest and biceps increased to 46" and 16." Muscle and fitness magazines, promoting ultra-lean bodies with Herculean physiques, have quadrupled their circulation in the last decade. Print images of male models in full or partial undress have increased by 30% over the last 40 years while those of women have remained constant; in the 90's more male models appeared undressed than did female models.

Advertisers have recognized the lucrative payoff when they prey on women's fears and insecurities; now they're beginning to turn to men as well. There has been a boom in advertisements for men's products and cosmetic procedures: hair replacement, penile enlargement, liposuction, ab/pec implants, etc. The messages are clear: if you're thin, muscular and "virile," you will be personally and sexually fulfilled.

"The Adonis Complex," a 2000 book by Pope, Phillips, & Olivardia, discusses many of these issues. They recommend that men don't buy into the media images of the muscular male, encourage us to realize that fitness models likely use steroids, and advise that "masculinity" is not defined by how you look.

Treatment is as available for men with a negative body image and eating disorders as it is for women. As this issue continues to be brought to light, hopefully men will feel more comfortable seeking help. There are counselors at CPS who specialize in treating eating disorders and body image issues in general and specifically in men.


View Text-only Version Text-only Updated: 12/17/08
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