Men with body image problems and eating disorders are subject to physical and psychological distress in a distinctly different way to the suffering of girls and women. Men are more likely to fail to recognise their symptoms. They are more likely to be misdiagnosed by their GPs and consequently are more likely to be given inadequate support, understanding and treatment. Once they are offered treatment they are often the only male and will suffer all of the attendant issues of that role.
“Because they are treated later, and in a more severe state of illness, outcomes of such treatments are worse.” 1
by Sam Thomas
Eating disorders are usually considered as female-only conditions. However, this could not be further from the truth. Would you know that numerous research studies suggest that between 10 and 25 per cent of cases are male, although many experts believe the real figure could in fact be significantly higher?
Men are arguably under more pressure than they ever have been before, especially in this current financial climate. With increasing expectations to perform at work, possibly for less money and worry of redundancy, is it any wonder that eating disorders in men are reported to be on the rise? Just last month, a professor from an eating disorder unit in London said he had seen the number of male referrals double in the past year.
Of course, a man’s financial situation is not his only concern. Family and home life, relationships, sexuality, body image and keeping up with the latest fashion trends are just some of the many problems men face today. Rarely do we hear who a build up of these issues may affect them like we would normally hear about women’s problems. And this is particularly the case when it comes to eating disorders.
Earlier last year, I began a mission to address this need by establishing ‘Men Get Eating Disorders Too’ – a web and publicity campaign aimed at raising awareness of eating disorders in men so men could seek support. Having had bulimia throughout my teens and early adult years, I knew first hand the difficulties men experienced getting professional help. Whilst most websites seemed targeted at women, I realised that this may put off men as it may make them feel they have a ‘woman’s illness.’ For this reason, I decided to develop a website that provides essential information and advice on eating disorders that is specific to men and act as a bridge to support services available, but also be a platform in which men could voice their stories.
The site was launched in spring of this year and is supported by ITV Fixers, who helped to recruit volunteers, build the site and help with publicity. This included filming a report for ‘Meridian Tonight’ where I told my own personal story and interviewed my dad about his perspective of having a son with an eating disorder.
Following the report, I had numerous other press requests from magazines and other TV and Radio. Subsequently, I was inundated with email from men nationally and internationally who were reassured that they are not alone.
More recently, I have been awarded funding to set up a Peer Support Group for men who are affected by eating disorders in the Brighton and Hove area (where I am based). The purpose of the group is to provide men a space to meet other male sufferers to share their experiences and coping strategies. It will initially be a six month pilot starting in the autumn. I hope that if the group is a success, it will continue and initiate other men’s only support groups in other areas of the country.
Ultimately, I am aiming to not only raise awareness of this issue among the wider community but also among services. One way in which I am doing this is via a petition I have set up on the Number 10 website to encourage better service provision for men with eating disorders. The petition reads: ‘We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to ensure men with eating disorders are given the same opportunities for treatment and care as female sufferers and are by no means discriminated against by their doctor / other health practitioner because they are male.’ Please sign the petition as the more signatures I can get, the more likely the government / policy makers / commissioners of services will take this issue seriously. To sign go to petitions.number10.gov.uk/men-eds. By supporting it you will be helping many hundreds if not thousands of men get access to support.
I feel that slowly but surely male eating disorders are becoming more recognised and known about, possibly more so since I’ve started this project. My dream is that men won’t have to go through the ordeals getting support and fear prejudice due to gender assumptions. Once this is achieved, I will consider this mission accomplished!
© Empatico 2009—2012