The Stigma Surrounding Men with Eating Disorders

Stigma Surrounding Men with Eating Disorders

Michelle Zaydlin

There are a variety of myths surrounding eating disorders—myths that can make people unaware of the seriousness of the disease or even prevent people from reaching out for help.

Many people think that only women are affected by eating disorders, but recent research has shown that about 25% of individuals diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia are men. Both men and women are continuously bombarded with unrealistic images of idealized body types in photographs, magazines, television shows, and movies. While the ideal female body type has been described as very thin with prominent sexual features, the male body type has been idealized as muscular, lean, and sexualized.

Another prevalent myth is that there is no such thing as too much exercise. While exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, over-exercise can be harmful to your body.

According to a recent article posted by the BBC, 1 in 10 men in training gyms in the United Kingdom may be experiencing muscle dysmorphic disorder (MDD), a type of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) that is often called “bigorexia.” This disorder, which is more common in men, involves a preoccupation with the idea that one’s body is not lean or muscular enough, regardless of actual appearance.

Individuals who struggle with MDD demonstrate an obsessive-compulsive attitude towards weight training and bodybuilding. Their need to feel fit can become competitive, controlling every aspect of their lives. Similar to individuals with anorexia, their lives begins to revolve around doing the “right” things as a means of soothing anxiety and other types of emotional distress. This disorder, like other eating disorders and mental health conditions, can have a variety of negative side effects—including interfering with one’s personal and social life, symptoms of anxiety or depression, as well as the physical consequences of excessive exercise, such as stress fractures, frequent injuries, and excessive weight loss.

Despite the fact that MDD is a serious disorder with dangerous consequences, it is rarely spoken about or publicly addressed—after all, there is no such thing as too much exercise and men don’t get eating disorders, right? That attitude is wrong on many fronts: MDD is a serious mental health condition that requires treatment and support. By having a conversation and raising awareness about this disorder, we can reduce stigma around MDD, and the individuals who are struggling may be able to receive help.

Each and every one of us can serve as the first line of intervention if we believe that a family member or friend may be struggling with an eating disorder or other type of mental health condition. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) provides the following tips for talking to a friend who may be struggling. They recommend:

  • Setting a time to talk
  • Communicating your concerns
  • Asking your friend to explore these concerns with a health professional who is knowledgeable in eating disorders
  • Avoid conflicts or a battle of wills with your friend
  • Avoid placing shame, blame or guilt
  • Avoid giving simple solutions
  • Express your continued support

For more information on how to talk to a friend, click here.

For recovery resources and treatment options, please visit our help and support page. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call  ANAD’s Helpline at: (888) 375-7767 or the National Alliance of Eating Disorders Helpline at: (866) 662-1235.

If you are thinking about suicide, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. In crisis situations, text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer from the Crisis Text Line.

Start the conversation, engage in raising awareness and continue to take care of yourself in a healthy and positive way, serving as a role model for others. We all have the power to create change in this world, one step at a time.

This piece was originally published on, NEDA’s website for teens and young adults.