Update On Men And Eating Disorders

young man performing a plank exercise

It’s time to leave the small-minded stigma behind. It’s time to get better.

Eating disorders among males are still too little understood, little studied, little talked about, and rife with misconceptions and gender bias (against men)—none of which is a good.

But here’s what’s changing, and what is good. We’re learning new information on this topic every day, and access to treatment and the treatment itself is improving. Men are also opening up about it more—to their partners, to their therapists, and to each other.

Maybe best of all, the stigma around this topic is fading. Men are coming forward, speaking their truth, receiving the help they need and deserve, and getting their lives back.

5 surprising facts about males and eating disorders

  1. They’re a lot more common than we thought. Experts say that 10 million men and boys in the U.S. will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Males total about one-quarter of all eating disorder cases.
  2. Males weren’t “allowed” to have anorexia until 2013. That’s the year the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of the mental health world, removed amenorrhea (missed periods) as a necessary criterion for an anorexia diagnosis. Once that criterion was removed from the manual, males started developing anorexia. Go figure.
  3. Males tend to exhibit a lot of unhealthy, subclinical eating behaviors. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), disordered eating (bingeing, purging, laxative abuse, fasting for weight loss, and so on) is nearly as common in males as it is in females. If not treated or self-corrected, disordered eating (subclinical) can progress to an eating disorder (clinical).
  4. Binge-eating disorder (BED) seems to be the “eating disorder of choice” for males. At least among the traditional Big Three eating disorders, which also include anorexia and bulimia. In fact, males may account for as much as 40 percent of all BED cases. Note: There’s another condition called muscle dysmorphic disorder that males are prone to far more than women. (More on this below.)
  5. The prevalence of eating disorders in males is rising. Three key factors behind this rise include: (1) males are coming forward more and are accessing treatment for eating disorders, thus they’re being “counted” in the statistics; (2) powerful social media influences that are affecting females are doing the same to males, including peer pressure, body image obsession, the push to conform to an ideal body type, and so on; (3) the wildly successful Marvel superhero movie franchise is causing many males to consciously or unconsciously pursue a ridiculously muscled, small-waisted body type.

Eating disorder warning signs for men

Generally speaking, these signs are similar to the warning signs of eating disorders in women. One difference is that men with eating disorders tend to exercise excessively more than women do, especially by way of weight-lifting and body-building. Common warning signs for eating disorders among males include:


  • Behaviors and attitudes that indicate that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns.
  • Preoccupation with exercise, sometimes exercising 8 to 10 hours a day.
  • Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat grams, and dieting.
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.
  • Frequent dieting, including diets for weight or muscle gain.
  • Extreme concern with body size and shape. 
  • Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance.
  • Extreme mood swings.


  • Noticeable fluctuations in weight, both up and down.
  • Change in physical appearance (i.e., increased muscle bulk).
  • Signs of vomiting such as swollen cheeks or jawline, calluses on knuckles or damaged teeth.
  • Fatigue (i.e., always feeling tired, unable to take part in normal activities).
  • Bloating, constipation, or the development of food intolerances.
  • Compromised immune system (i.e., getting sick more often).
  • Fainting or dizziness.
  • Lowered testosterone.
  • Sensitivity to the cold.

A key difference for males with eating disorders

Muscle dysmorphic disorder (MDD), a type of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), is far more common in men than women. Often called “bigorexia,” MDD is when someone is obsessed with the idea that their body is not lean or muscular enough, regardless of their actual appearance. It often goes hand-in-hand with an eating disorder.

People with MDD are usually compulsive about weight training and bodybuilding. Also, their need to be fit can control all aspects of their lives. They obsess about doing the “right” things (“clean” eating, working out, staying disciplined, and so on) in order to soothe anxiety and other types of emotional distress. They often spend long hours in the gym.

MDD can severely disrupt a person’s personal and social life, and is often accompanied by depression and anxiety. The excessive exercising can cause physical consequences such as stress fractures, frequent injuries, and dramatic weight loss.

Despite MDD being a serious condition, the person who has it often doesn’t realize it, nor do those around him. People write if off as someone being super passionate about exercise and fitness, and that’s a good thing, right? At the level that people with MDD do it, no it isn’t. Muscle dysmorphic disorder a serious mental health condition that requires professional treatment.

How to help someone you suspect has an eating disorder

There’s a lot of stigma around eating disorders that a man or boy has to fight through before making the decision to get treatment. Males with these disorders—as with women—often lack awareness of the condition, even when the warning signals are flashing red all around them. As a consequence, many don’t seek help, and suffer alone. Sometimes for years.

That’s why it’s so important to help a friend or loved one who is showing clear signs of an eating disorder or MDD. If they are, NEDA recommends the following:

  • Set a time to talk in a private location.
  • Communicate your concerns in a nonconfrontational way.
  • Ask your friend to explore these concerns with a health professional who is knowledgeable about eating disorders.
  • Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt.
  • Avoid giving simple solutions; it’s far better to listen.
  • Continue to show patience, openness, and support.

How to help yourself

We understand and empathize with you if you’re dealing with an eating disorder. Nothing about this is easy. It’s hard to recognize that you have it, it’s hard to talk or even think about it, and most of all it’s hard to tell someone you need help.

That part about asking for help? It isn’t a sign of weakness, and it isn’t about you giving up or somehow “losing.” Just the opposite. Asking for help may be the toughest, most manly thing you ever do.

Next steps to get help:

Consider making an appointment with your PCP or therapist. If they don’t have expertise in eating disorders, ask them to refer you to someone who does.

If you don’t have a PCP or therapist at the moment, call your health insurance (private or public, either works) and tell them you need to see an in-network provider about an eating disorder right away.

If you don’t have insurance, contact a community health clinic, and tell them you may have an eating disorder and need to see someone about it immediately.

When pursuing any of those options, don’t take “no” for an answer. Keep pushing until you get that appointment on the calendar—sooner the better. This is about your health and your life, and you deserve to get better. Eating disorders are treatable!

Resources that can help:

Search for support groups of men dealing with the same issues as you. Remember, you’re not alone. There are literally millions of men and boys in the U.S. who are living with and overcoming eating disorders. These in-person and online communities offer much-needed emotional support, and they can be amazing sources of advice and information as well. A starter list of resources, some of which will lead you to others:

Final thoughts: If you or someone close to you is seeking help with an eating disorder, once again be aware that there is still social stigma around males with eating disorders. Our advice on that? DO NOT let that slow you down on your journey to recovery.

Stay the course, enlist support from people you trust, be brutally honest with your self-assessments when talking to providers, follow your treatment plan, and hold your providers to the highest level of care. You deserve that, and you deserve to get better.