To this day, most of us still associate eating disorders with young women, more specifically heterosexual, white young women. However, at least 30 million people of all ages and gender struggle with eating disorders in the US. It’s time to shed light on eating disorders and include all of those in the conversation. Otherwise, we’re not talking about the issue at hand.
What’s Considered an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are mental health conditions that cause an obsession with body weight, food, or body shape. Such disorders can arise from a variety of reasons, including genetics. Other studies suggest eating disorders are the result of cultural preferences and pressure. Recently, research has also found a connection between levels of serotonin and dopamine affecting brain structure.
Some common eating disorders include:
Anorexia nervosa – people who limit their food intake to prevent weight gain, even when they’re severely underweight.
Bulimia nervosa – people who devour large amounts of foods to purge later. They also have a fear of weight gain despite being at an average weight.
Binge eating disorder – people who binge regularly and consume a large amount of foods. They don’t purge.
However, there are other types of eating disorders that are not talked about so often:
Pica – people who eat things that are not considered food.
Rumination disorder – people who regurgitate food they’ve swallowed, then chew it again and either swallow it or spit it out.
Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder – people who under-eat either because of a lack of interest in food or an intense distaste for certain foods.
Shedding Light on Male Eating Disorders
Despite common belief, eating disorders affect men as well. In the United States, eating disorders will affect 10 million males at some point. However, men are less likely to seek treatment for eating disorders.
Unfortunately, due to men not speaking up about their struggles with eating disorders, statistics are mere estimates. The National Association of Males with Eating Disorders believes that between 25 to 40 percent of people with eating disorders are men. Around 67% of those diagnosed with avoidant restrictive food disorders are men.
Muscle Dysmorphia in Men
One of the most common eating disorders linked to men is muscle dysmorphia, previously known as reverse anorexia. In this case, men are not looking to be thinner. Instead, they’re looking to build more muscle and appear bigger, so they can fit into the traditional stereotypes of the ideal male body. One study found that almost 53 percent of bodybuilders have body dysmorphia.
Sexual Orientation in Men
Most people believe most men with eating disorders are homosexual. There’s one study often cited from 2007 that says a higher percentage of homosexual men are diagnosed with anorexia. However, one study found little to no connection between sexual orientation and the prevalence of eating disorders.
LGBTQIA+ people might have a predisposition to eating disorders linked to the stress of not being accepted by their families and communities, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
Eating Disorders at Midlife
Another myth that has been proven wrong by science is that eating disorders only affect younger individuals. In a recent study, researchers found that over 15 percent of women in their 40s and 50s met the criteria for a lifetime eating disorder.
Another study found that older women and men were the larger populations struggling with common eating disorders:
Binge eating disorder – the 45-59 group, had the highest prevalence.
Bulimia nervosa – the 30-44 and 45-59 age groups had the highest prevalence.
Racism around the Eating Disorder Conversations
Unfortunately, the black population is often not included in the conversation around eating disorders. However, according to various studies, black teenagers are 50% more likely than white teenagers to struggle with eating disorders, including bulimia, purging, and binging.
The issue expands society standards, as even clinicians don’t seem to associate eating disorders with black women. In the same study, 44% of clinicians identified eating behaviors as problematic in white women, while only 17% identified the issue as questionable in black women.
There’s no research to determine what causes higher rates in black women. However, it could be a combination of environmental stress, multiple traumas, and lack of professional help.
A Note from GR8NESS
The conversation about eating disorders is an ever-evolving one. Most people who struggle with eating disorders don’t look like they have one. Overweight individuals might be struggling with a binge eating disorder. Some people with bulimia manage to maintain a healthy weight yet continue to have bulimic behaviors.
Keep your eyes open for signs of an eating disorder. Be open about your struggles if that’s your case. Be receptive to other’s struggles. Don’t judge. End the stigma. And most importantly, speak up and seek help, eating disorders don’t have to be a death sentence.