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Anorexia: Not Just A Women’s Disease
“Oh I’m so fat”. This is not something we normally think of hearing out of a
man’s mouth. Women are thought to be the only ones that obsess over their
appearance. Therefore, anorexia is commonly thought to be a woman’s disease. But in
reality, there are many men fighting it. Out of the estimated eight million people in the
United States with anorexia, about ten percent of the cases are men (Something Fishy,
par.1). These are only reported cases. It is assumed that there is more, but the men haven’t
come forward, since it is very hard for a man to admit to having this disease.
Nevertheless, there are a growing number of men in America with this disease, and it
needs to be dealt with. This paper will address the causes, affects, reason why they hide it,
and treatment of anorexia in men.
It is not known for sure what exactly causes anorexia in men. But there are a few
theories on it. One theory on the cause of anorexia in men is our culture today. Most
people think our culture only influences women with the constant pressure to be skinny,
with the magazines, and the skinny models, and everything. But actually, society
influences men to be thin quite a bit too. What’s acceptable for a man’s body shape is
very limited here in America. More and more magazines for men are about fitness, weight
lifting, and body building(Highlights, par. 6). The media and entertainment industry really
focuses on a nicely built, “in shape man“. So some men do feel pressure to be physically
fit. Of the men that are overweight, some may choose anorexia as a way to diet. Anorexia
in men is rare of course, but it does happen.
Another possible cause of anorexia in men could be the sports that they participate
in. Some common men’s sports that are thought to cause anorexia are wrestling, ballet,
ice skating, horse racing jockeys, and gymnastics. In fact, one third of high school
wrestlers starve themselves to “make weight”(WebMd Health par. 14). High school
wrestling coaches encourage less eating, and low water intake, so that the wrestlers can
get into a lower weight class. And unlike with most sports, where the athletes stop their
behavior after the sports season is over, wrestlers tend to continue there behavior all year
round. An average wrestler’s body fat is three percent lower than a normal high school
student’s(WebMD Health par. 14).
For example, my brother has been in wrestling for nine years now. Although he’s
not anorexic, he has done some crazy, and very unhealthy things for wrestling. His coach
makes the wrestlers spit all the time. I’ve witnessed this at school. I could always tell who
the wrestlers were, because they would be walking down the hall and all of a sudden spit
into the garbage can. This was one of their many ways to dehydrate themselves to loose
weight. The wrestlers rarely ate anything at lunch when I was in school, and if they did, it
was hardly anything. I often noticed my brother wouldn’t eat dinner with us at home, and
I got really worried. When I would nag him about eating, his response was always the
same, “I have to make weight”. This “making weight” as they called it, involves losing
enough weight so they can wrestle in a lower weight class, and therefore have a better
chance at winning. They are really pressured by their coach and fellow teammates to
loose weight. So I can see from my brother how a lot of wrestlers end up anorexic.
Most men will not admit to being anorexic, because it is commonly thought that
anorexia is a woman’s disease. But there is another big reason why anorexic men will not
come forward. Society has always thought that a man who was anorexic, must be
homosexual. But society is mostly right about this. It is a fact that forty two percent of
men with anorexia are homosexual(WebMD Health, par. 5). This is thought to be because
of the high level of importance that gay men place on appearance when it comes to
succeeding in life. So it is very common for gay men to be anorexic. This is why a
straight man does not like to admit that he has the disease, for fear of being labeled gay.
Another reason a man may not want to admit that he is anorexic is because of the
shame. The man may feel very ashamed at what he does. He may think things like “I’m
discusting,” and “look at what I do to myself.” He might worry that people will think he’s
crazy if they find out. He may also fear the ridicule he might face from his fellow
“buddies.” Being a teased and called “girlie.” Or being acccused of not being very
“manly.” There are many reasons that men do not come forward with their disease.
There are many harmful affects of anorexia in men. When a man is anorexic, he
looses an average of fifteen to sixty percent of his normal body weight, which obviously
isn‘t very healthy(WebMD Health par.3). When men have anorexia, they are actually hit a
lot harder with affects than women are. There’s more severe problems that strike anorexic
men, like dangerously low bone mineral density(WebMD Health, par.6). When a man is
anorexic, not only is he not eating properly, but he is also not drinking enough either. He
doesn’t drink enough, if any, milk. It is normally very important to drink milk, but when
someone is anorexic, it is extremely crueshal. When an anorexic man does not get enough
calcium, he can develop a low bone marrow density. When someone has a low bone
marrow density, they have a higher risk of a fracture or developing osteoporosis(WebMd
Health, par. 6). It has been proven in research that all affects of anorexia, are more severe
when men have the disease(WebMD Health, par. 14).
Once a man has realized that he does indeed have anorexia, and is ready and
willing to get help, he is then on his long way to recovery. There are many steps in this
process, the first is nutritional education. A professionally trained dietitian will first asses
the man’s past eating habits and history. The dietitian will discuss with the patient what
he used to eat in a day, what kind of foods he ate, and if he had problems with binging.
Going on what is learned, the dietitian will set up an eating regimen that is most
beneficial to the anorexic. And during all this the patient is educated about proper eating
behavior. He learns good eating habits, and safe ways to control his weight. The dietitian
knows that the patient is still going to think he is overweight no matter what, so they try
to work with him on that. If he really wants to watch his weight(after he has gained
weight back to a healthy level of course), then the dietitian will teach him how to safely
control his weight gain. The patient is taught how to eat healthy foods in normal amounts.
Also, how to exercise properly. The patient learns how to diet safely.
The next step to recovery is counseling. What type of counseling depends on how
bad of a case the patient has. If it isn’t that severe, and the patient isn’t in immediate
physical danger, then he can be treated at home, and continue to lead a normal life. But
if their case is so bad that he is in danger of loosing his life, then he will have to be
admitted to an institution.
There are many good treatment facilities across the country for anorexics, but
many will not admit men. Most focus on women. If they do let a man in, he is usually the
only one and often feels out of place and left out. The man feels he really has no one to
relate to, and that no one understands what he is feeling. But more and more we are
starting to see some “just for men” treatment facilities popping up across the country.
They are rare, and hard to find, but if a man can get into one of these, he will be a lot
better off than if he is put into a woman‘s facility. In an all male institution, the men can
better relate to each other and understand what one another is going through. Men with
anorexia have different problems and issues to deal with, than women with the disease.
So once into one of these centers, the patient will receive some much needed counseling.
The best psychologists and psychiatrists will work with them. Group sessions are also a
big part of recovery. Psychiatrists believe it really helps to be in a group talking to people
who are going through the same things, and feeling the same way.
Lastly, there is a lot of follow up things involved after the patient has obtained a
normal weight. Once the patient is released, it is still very important that he maintains a
healthy weight. If left alone, the majority of patients will go right back to their old habits,
so it is important to have follow up treatment. The patient must continue to go back for
counseling every week for six months to a year, depending how he is coming
along(Something Fishy, par. 3). And he must still continue to work with a dietitian, who
will periodically check on his food supply, what he are keeping in his house, and if he is
eating enough. It is also essential to keep the patient’s family involved. They must be
involved every step of the way. When the patient is back home the family also needs to
make a lot of adjustments. They too need to be watching their eating habits. It is not easy
for the patient to try to eat healthy when everyone him is not. The family needs to be
supportive during this time. They need to change their habits right along with their
struggling family member, so they don’t feel alone in their battle. The family has to watch
closely to make sure the patient isn’t secretly still in his old habits. Because if not
observed closely, he could very easily slip back into their old ways. The patient is
required to keep a journal of what he eats every day, and put it in like a calendar form so
he can see his progress throughout the month(Something Fishy, par. 5). The patient is
encouraged to post this where the other family members can see it, like on the refrigerator
for example, so that the family can also see the progress the patient is making. All in all
the support and love from the family, will really help out in the healing process.
These are some of the most commonly used methods in treating an anorexic.
Hopefully after all this the patient has recovered. But still a staggering twenty
percent of patients treated will go back to being anorexic(Anorexia Nervosa and Related
Eating Disorders Inc., par. 13).
In conclusion, I have explained the causes of anorexia in men, the affects, and the
different treatment options. Anorexia is a terrible disease. And no one should have to
suffer alone. Hopefully more men will come out of hiding, realizing it’s okay to have this
horrible disease, and get some much deserved help.
1)Alexander, Eliot. Sick and Tired of Being Fat. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.
2) American Dietetic Association. Reiff, Dan W., Reiff, Kathleen K. L. 1994. November 26th, 2000.
3) Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders Inc. October 14th, 2000. November 26th, 2000.
4) Brumberg, Joan J. Fasting Girls. London: Harvard University Press, 1998.
5) Highlights. Billie, Lindsey J. 1995. The Columbia University Heath Service. November 26th, 2000.
6) Rumney, Avis. Dying to Please. London: McFarland, 1983.
7) Sandbek, Terence J. The Deadly Diet. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 1993.
8) Self Help Magazine. Lee Hoffman. May 28th 1998. November 9th, 2000. Http://shpm.com/articles/reating/nih/anorexia.html
9) Something Fishy: Website on Eating Disorders. September 26th, 2000. November 26th, 2000.
10) The Eating Disorders Site. Margo, J.L. British Journal of Psychiatry. 1987. November 26th, 2000.
11) Web MD Health. March, 1999. November 9th, 2000. Http://ebmd.com/content/dmk_article_40031
12) Zerbe, Kathryn J. The Body Betrayed. Carlsbad, CA: Gurze Books, 1995.
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