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Only young women get eating disorders. Right? Wrong. It’s thought that one in every four people with an eating disorder is a man. That’s roughly 400,000 men a year. Yet only one in 12 seek help.
It’s changing though. Men receiving outpatient treatment in England have grown twice as fast as women in the last three years. But research and dedicated information to help men understand is still scant.
The advent of the ‘metrosexual’ male, personified by David Beckham has made men much more body conscious. Body dissatisfaction, anxiety about appearance, excessive body checking, and negative physical-self evaluation are risk factors for developing an Eating Disorder. **
Men are beginning to speak out. BBC Wales sports journalist Steve James recently revealed his struggle with anorexia, while international rugby referee Nigel Owens revealed he still suffers from bulimia.
Mr Owens told Panorama’s Week In Week Out programme: "It's a very secretive illness and men in particular find it very difficult to talk about it.
It’s not a ‘female problem’
You can’t blame them; there’s a dearth of gender-appropriate information and resources for men. Liam Jones Assistant Psychologist with the Eating Disorders service at Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust says men need more information to stop them feeling like they have a female problem.
“Men might think only women get eating disorders. The idea of them having a problem typically seen in women may mean that they are reluctant to acknowledge their difficulties, which may prevent them seeking help. It affects everyone and we need men to know that."
A range of factors can come together to make someone vulnerable. They may restrict their food and be low weight; or restrict their food but then eat a large amount in a short time then find this distressing. Some people use food to help them feel better then they may gain weight. In both sexes, the issue is how the person relates to food and themselves; there is often an emphasis on their weight and the shape of their body.
Trainee clinical psychologist Adam Welsh: “Both men and women feel societal pressures to look desirable. When they compare themselves to the 'perfect' images they see in the media both sexes can be left feeling as though they don't measure up.
* BBC Breakfast investigation 2016.
**(Feldman & Meyer, 2007).
Read our 'Eating disorders explored' article HERE.
Read Tony Brown's real life account of his eating disorder HERE.