When people think of eating disorders, they often imagine a stick-thin woman comparing herself to models or Barbie dolls. We often fail to realize people of all body types struggle with eating disorders, including men. Parents worry about their daughters starving themselves but don’t think to check on their sons’ eating habits, despite the fact that one out of three people afflicted with an eating disorder is a man.
Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder affect people of all shapes and sizes despite how the media portrays these diseases. In films, we are shown paper thin women struggling with eating disorders, and while this can be accurate, not everyone who struggles with these diseases looks like this. The next time your friend undergoes a major weight loss, stop and make sure the way they achieved their goal was safe for their body. Rapid weight loss brought on by starvation or vomiting is extremely dangerous for your body, regardless of a person’s size. Long-term effects of eating disorders can include but are not limited to osteopenia (the loss of bone calcium), osteoporosis (the loss of bone density), infertility and heart failure. Those who die from eating disorder complications typically die of heart disease.
Most eating disorder clinics focus on women as their clientele, too often ignoring men who also need help. The language on most surveys, pamphlets and websites is often geared toward women, resulting in boys with eating disorders feeling misunderstood or left out of the discussion. Eating Disorder Hope, a website for eating disorder resources, even described anorexia as “ravaging a woman’s body,” failing to acknowledge that eating disorders are just as dangerous to the men who are struggling with them.
Due to the stigma surrounding receiving help for an eating disorder, there are likely more men and boys with eating disorders than the statistics show. The media portrays anorexia and bulimia as diseases afflicting only females, causing males with eating disorders may be to possibly be discouraged from getting help due to the fear of being labeled as “feminine,” or “gay.” Not only are boys often discouraged from receiving help, but it can also be difficult for them to actually get the help they need.
The ways to diagnose an eating disorder are also aimed toward females, with one symptom of anorexia being “irregular menstrual cycles.” Most eating disorder treatments are done in group settings, like group therapy, which teen boys often do not want to partake in, according to the National Center of Biotechnology Information. Terminology regarding eating disorders and the treatments offered too often exclude boys and men in need of help.
It is important to understand that eating disorders don’t just look like the stereotypical skinny woman. They look like your roommate, your brother or your mom. Eating disorders can display themselves through extreme binge eating or through eating regular meals but leaving to purge. Check up on your friends, family and partners to ensure they are maintaining healthy eating habits. As humans, regardless of gender, we are constantly comparing ourselves to others, and in our teenage years, this problem is exacerbated. We have to remember to check on all of our loved ones, not just those the media has told us to check on.
Hannah Whitaker is a UF English sophomore. Her column appears on Mondays.