Men get eating disorders too
The warning signs that can signal the onset or the present of an eating disorder are common to both males and females. To understand more comprehensive and disorder-specific warning signs, please go to the relevant sections. The following warning signs are the ones more likely to occur in males:
- Preoccupation with body building, weight lifting or muscle toning
- Increasing preoccupation weight/size
- Obsessively exercising for hours most days
- Ambitious fitness targets
- Exercising when sick or injured
- Lowered testosterone
- Anxiety/stress over missing workouts
- Muscular weakness
- Decreased interest in sex, or fears around sex
- Using anabolic steroids
- Cancelling social events to train
- Mood swings and the inability to eat if exercise goals not achieved
Bigorexia is a subtype of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). Those with bigorexia are preoccupied with gaining muscle mass. When looking in the mirror some men see a frail/feeble shape, even if they appear well built to others. This may lead to taking compulsive exercise and weight training, and in many cases pushing themselves to a limit, which is beyond healthy and often beyond their own physical abilities.
What makes compulsive exercise different to muscle dysmorphia is that people that compulsively exercise will spend many hours aiming to lose calories in order to lose weight, while the latter is about building body bulk.
They may sacrifice social events and relationships, work responsibilities and family life to complete a rigid exercise regime. Some men may resort to using illegal steroids or other muscle building medications or products, even though they may be fully aware of the dangerous potential consequences.
Our socio-cultural influences mean that over-exercising and the extreme pursuit of muscle growth are frequently seen as healthy behaviours for males and can even be actively encouraged. The truth is that these activities can indicate a significant disorder and lead to severe physical health problems.
The role of eating disorders being a coping mechanism or an expression of underlying emotional distress is applicable to males as much as it is females. Although they are not considered eating disorders themselves, compulsive exercise and bigorexia share the same characteristics and need urgent professional help.
Being aware of eating disorders and acting on the warning signs by seeking help immediately can have a marked influence on their severity and duration. However, the nature of an eating disorder means that the signs might be discreet, and there may be ambivalence about seeking help.
Men with eating disorders may not always recognise their symptoms and therefore it can take a long time for them to seek the help they need. It is common for someone affected by an eating disorder to deny it and they may refuse to acknowledge anything is wrong if someone tries to confront them about it.
If you have or think you may have an eating disorder, it’s important that you consider speaking to someone about it. Telling someone for the first time can be a huge relief. The chances are you are bottling up your feelings and hiding from your friends, family, or you’re partner. By being open it might help you to think about what your next steps are and be supported by those around you. You might be ready to talk to your friend, family member or your partner.
Whoever you decide to talk to, it will help you to make the next step – whatever that may be for you. Remember you are not alone.
It is possible for males to recover from eating disorders. Evidence shows that the sooner someone starts treatment for an eating disorder, the shorter the recovery process.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for males to go untreated longer and to receive less professional care than females. Commonly males only seek treatment or receive a correct medical diagnosis when symptoms become severe and few services are designed to meet the specific needs of males with eating disorders.
Your GP can give you advice and talk to you about getting a diagnosis and the possible treatment options. Your GP will do a physical and psychological assessment and talk about eating disorder behaviours in order to help determine the most suitable care plan. Although it might seem daunting try to be as open with the doctor about how you are feeling and the impact your eating difficulties are having on you.
Your treatment depends on how serious your condition is and the best way to manage it. Treatment usually begins with psychological therapy, which aims to help re-establish healthy attitudes towards eating, body image and exercise. You will need to explore and understand the underlying issues and feelings that are contributing to the eating and/or body image difficulties, and change your attitudes towards food and weight. If you feel that support would be beneficial for you, get in touch with your GP.
There are a number of very good self-help resources available. These resources can tell you about ways other people have found to get better, can suggest some of the reasons why you may be feeling as you do and can give practical suggestions of measures you can take in your life to try to recover.
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Self-Help
These leaflets developed by the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust providing information and exercises from a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) perspective.
Reading Well Books on Prescription
Reading Well Books on Prescription is an early intervention service to help people understand and manage their mental health. The agency provides a core book list of accredited titles recommended by healthcare professionals that covers a range of common mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, phobias and eating disorders. These can be recommended/referred to by G.P or health care professional.
For lists of books available go to www.readingagency.org.uk/readingwell/BOPcorelist
Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI)
A resource designed to provide information, strategies and techniques to change thinking patterns associated with disordered eating. It is organised into modules that are designed to be worked through in sequence, each including information, worksheets and suggested exercise or activities.
Diet or Disorder App
The Diet or Disorder App is an evidence-based app to help you better understand eating disorders, signs and symptoms, treatment and recovery. Available on iPhone and Android, you can find out more here.
Recovery Road App
The recovery road app is an evidence-based recovery-focused app for eating disorders. Delevoped by professionals it helps you to track your recovery progress and learn new coping skills. Find out more by clicking here.
Wellbeing Services Library
Take a look at the books available in our library. All books in the Wellbeing Library can be borrowed by providing your student details to staff at the reception desk. You are also able to access e-books, information for how to do this is on the library section of our website.
Videos can provide you with a wealth of information in a short space of time. Below we have a list of short films/clips and videos which give information about eating disorders, personal recovery stories and tips for taking the first steps towards seeking help.
- BBC Newsbeat - Bigorexia: Never Buff Enough
- Welsh rugby referee, Nigel Owens, talks about his battle with Bulimia
- Steve explains how he beat Bulimia Nervosa
- Dave discusses using comedy to overcome his battle with Anorexia
- Devon NHS Partnership Trust Personal Stories
- Supporting someone with an eating disorder
Eating Difficulties Peer Support Group
An Eating Difficulties Peer Support Group run by students at the University of Exeter. For more information click here.
A free, confidential NHS talking therapy service that offers effective treatments and therapies, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which can help you get your life back on track. You may self-refer for a range of difficulties including eating disorders, by completing their online registration form. Click here for the website. You need to be in the local Devon area for your assessment and registered with a Devon-based GP/doctor’s surgery.
Telephone: 0300 555 3344
The Haldon Eating Disorder Service is dedicated to providing care for those affected by eating disorders. The unit is situated within Wonford House Hospital in Exeter, has twelve beds and accepts both female and male patients from 16 years old, from across the South West Peninsula.
Tel: 01392 208263
More information at: https://www.dpt.nhs.uk/our-services/eating-disorders/our-services/the-haldon
Somerset & Wessex Eating Disorders Association (SWEDA) offers a range of services throughout Somerset and the surrounding area.
Based at Shepton Mallet in Somerset, in the Southwest of England (UK), they provide support to anyone affected by eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, compulsive eating, binge eating disorder and all related conditions.
Their services include Counselling Services, and a monthly Self-help Support Group.
British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
If you would like to find a private counsellor who specialises in eating disorders to help you cope with your difficulty and make positive change, you can find a qualified, experienced therapist in your area by using the Find a Therapist search tool - http://www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk/
British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP)
The BABCP provide details for accredited therapists working within the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy model - www.babcp.com
The Mental Health Foundation provides up-to-date research and studies to help people understand, protect and sustain their mental health. There are links to articles, blogs and research.
MaleVoicED is a charity which recognises and values the lived experience of males who have experienced, or are experiencing, eating disorders, disordered eating and associated co-morbid conditions. Visit the website to access online resources (such as videos, leaflets and apps), age-specific advice and details for peer support groups.
A website created by Jenny Langley whose son had anorexia, to provide support, comfort, information and advice for anyone concerned about a boy or young man’s eating and exercise habits.
The NHS Choices website has information about conditions and treatments as well as services and hospitals.
NHS Direct provide 24-hour medical advice and information. They have comprehensive information and advice on all types of eating disorders, videos of people’s experiences, an eating disorder forum, and other useful links.
Student Minds is the UK’s student mental health charity. Its aim is to empower students with the knowledge, confidence and skills to look after their own mental health and support others.
There is an excellent section written for school leavers and students with experience of eating disorders. The information here has been written by individuals with experience of eating disorders and health care professionals to help you think proactively about what you can do to support yourself through university or college. It also includes some inspirational recovery stories.
Mind are a national charity who offer information on all mental illnesses. They have specific leaflets and information sheets on eating disorders.
Tel: 020 8519 2122
Information Line: 0845 660163
You can download a booklet entitled, Understanding Eating Problems here:
Fixers offer online support and have a range of young people’s stories, family’s personal experiences and expert information about eating disorders.
If you have an eating disorder or know someone who does, you may find it useful to contact a support group such as B-eat for information and advice.
- a confidential helpline on 0808 801 0677 – they also have a designated youth helpline on 0808 801 0711 (all year round, 4– 10pm)
- live chat and online support groups, where you can talk to others in a similar situation
- a national network of volunteer support groups
You can also use the Beat HelpFinder directory to find eating disorder support services in your local area.
NCFED provides information and advice about eating disorders, including recommendations for treatment options as well as support for carers, recovery workshops, residential treatment and professional training. For their counselling page specifically for men, click here.
Provide on-going care, emotional support and practical guidance for anyone affected by eating disorders. We support and care for those struggling personally and resource and equip parents, families, friends and professionals. There is also a helpline run by trained staff, who have both professional and personal experience of eating disorders.
Telephone: 03000 11 12 13
Pro-recovery movement for Christians and people of faith.
Eating Disorder Hope are passionate about helping eating disorder sufferers find hope, health and healing. They believe that each individual is precious and uniquely designed by God. Eating disorders hinder the sufferer in their journey of life by crippling their ability to use their gifts and talents in ways that provide personal fulfilment and happiness. Recovery from anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders allows individuals to meaningfully participate and contribute to the world.
Samaritans offer a 24 hour online and telephone support service, when you need emotional support and someone to talk to anytime. You can call their free and confidential helpline 24/7 on 116 123.