More Boys Being Diagnosed with Eating Disorders

More Boys Being Diagnosed with Eating Disorders


Statistics state that up to 25 per cent of all Brits facing an eating disorder, may be male. If, in the past, anorexia nervosa and bulimia were often labelled as ‘female disorders’, these days, more males (from as young as 12 years of age or even younger) are being diagnosed with these and other eating disorders (including Binge Eating Disorder – involving bingeing but not purging; and EDNOS – Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified).



Parents need to be on the lookout for signs that their sons many have an unhealthy relationship to food, simply because males are less likely to be diagnosed and treated for an eating disorder. Moreover, a recent study by researchers at University College London showed that eating disorders rates are rising twice as quickly in males as in females.

Between 2000 and 2009, the number of eating disorder cases in males rose by 24 per cent. The most prevalent age in males is anywhere between 10 and 14.

Health professionals believe that current statistics actually fail to reflect the extent of the problem in males, because many are misdiagnosed, while others fail to turn to health professionals.


The reasons for a lack of diagnoses or misdiagnoses include:

  • A misconception that eating disorders are a female thing: Males may know that something is not right about their relationship with food, yet they may not suspect they have an eating disorder. Health professionals, too, can fail to spot vital signs in males, because eating disorders do not always involve severe weight loss. Many males with bulimia, binge eating disorder or EDNOS, for instance, may not manifest any outward signs at all and parents and family too, often fail to observe that something is wrong, especially if their children do not lose a significant amount of weight.
  • Many people see bingeing as part of normal healthy behaviour in males. They may also overlook an addiction to exercise in males, who are ‘allowed’ and even encouraged to excel at sports, no matter what it takes. Parents should be on the lookout for signs their children may be taking sports too far – for instance, if they suffer from mood swings when they are unable to exercise because of an injury or poor weather, or if they are constantly measuring their body or looking for changes.
  • People often associate eating disorders with thinness, a quality that tends to be the main aim of females with eating disorders: Males will not necessarily want to look slimmer; rather, they often pursue a ripped frame in which muscles are highly defined.
  • Fear: Males who do suspect they have an eating disorder may be reticent to ask for help because they are scared of being ridiculed by family and friends. In fact, males should be educated on the serious consequences of eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa, for instance, has the highest mortality rate of any mental condition and eating disorders as a whole have many long-term consequences for our health, affecting the heart and other vital organs.



Parents should also watch out for specific risk factors, which include being a victim of bullying, having been subjected to strict dieting in the past, taking part in sports that require a slim or muscular body type, being gay, and having specific personality traits (including perfectionism, competitiveness, and hyperactivity).

Children and teens with other mental conditions as well (such as anxiety and depression) can also be more prone to develop an eating disorder.

If you fear that your child or sibling may be affected, it is vital that they obtain a diagnosis and be treated quickly, to increase the likelihood of success. Gold standard therapies include Maudsley Family Therapy, which focuses first on helping a child regain any weight they have lost and eventually on helping them build a healthy relationship with food.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is another popular treatment which aims to teach a patient to understand the relationship between how they think, feel and behave. Changing one of these three factors can have powerful and highly beneficial effects on the other two.

Eating disorders arise from a plethora of causes so it is important not to blame oneself or other family members; the focus should be on solving the problem and on supporting the person with the eating disorder during their


Article by Gemma Cain




Further Reading:


Anorexia & Bulimia Care

Men Get Eating Disorders Too

Science Daily Article

Male eating disorders on the rise

What We Know About Eating Disorders


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