Beyond the Muscular Ideal: Talking About Eating Disorders and Masculinity

There’s a growing acknowledgment that women/feminine-presenting people are not the only people who get eating disorders. Increasingly, headlines proclaim that “men get eating disorders too!” and note that the stereotype that eating disorders are a “girl thing” is tired and problematic. This is great – anything that breaks down the well-entrenched notion that only young, rich, skinny, white, cis- and hetero girls are the only ones to get eating disorders is a welcome move in my opinion.

However, are we just reinscribing gender norms and the focus on body image and body ideals in the way we talk about eating disorders in boys and men? I just finished reading an article by Wright, Halse & Levy (2015) asking just this question. The article provides a compelling argument for re-visioning how we talk about eating disorders amongst boys and men.


Wright, Halse & Levy explore discourses around eating disorders … Continue reading →

Culture and Eating Disorders: A Singaporean Perspective — Part 2

I previously looked at two retrospective studies of anorexia patients in Singapore, which primarily concerned female patients. In this study, Tan et al (2014) looked at 72 male-identified patients diagnosed with all forms of eating disorders.

  • 1% had anorexia nervosa (15.3% binge-purge subtype, 20.8% restrictive subtype)
  • 3% had bulimia nervosa (27.8% purge subtype, 5.6% non-purge subtype)
  • 5% had EDNOS
  • 9% had BED

The mean age at intake was 19.9 years old; patients were mainly students (41.7%) and national servicemen (41.7%). Compulsory army service (National Service) usually takes place in the two years after high school graduation, though some may defer until completing further studies. The typical age range for those in National Service is 19-24.

Of the patients in the study, 88.9% identified a precipitating factor for their eating disorder, including being overweight (59.7% reported pre-morbid obesity) and having people make comments about their body. 68.1% of patients … Continue reading →

Beyond Thinness: Men, Muscularity and Eating Disorders

Eating disorder research tends to focus on girls and women. Which makes sense: eating disorders disproportionately affect women. However, it isn’t just the research on eating disorders that focuses on women: it’s the entire history of eating disorders as a diagnosis. The first descriptions of anorexia nervosa by William Gull and bulimia nervosa by Gerald Russell were both based primarily on observations of female patients (although Russell did include two men). Therefore, it’s possible that our basic construction of eating disorders is based on a specifically female experience.

One example of this is the focus on weight loss as a cardinal component of eating disorders (barring binge eating disorder). This is often attributed to the pursuit of a “thin ideal” created by our culture; however, this thin ideal doesn’t necessarily apply to men. Whilst women encounter pressure to be thin, evidence suggests that men encounter pressure to be more muscular—a … Continue reading →

Gendering the Pro-Anorexia Paradox: Men in Pro-Ana Spaces

When someone says “pro-ana,” what comes to mind? Likely, given the strong reactions pro-anorexia websites provoke, you may be able to conjure up an image of what would take place in such a forum. Thoughts of “thinspiration,” emaciated and waif-like images, and starving tips likely spring to mind, alongside considerations of the dangers of a community that would encourage behaviors that can be very harmful to health.

I’d venture to say that it is unlikely that you have pictured a man participating in these sites. Given that we know that men get eating disorders too, and that they may feel alienated in their struggles, is it surprising that some might seek out online communities, including pro-ana?

As Tetyana noted in previous posts on pro-ana (here and here), these sites can serve a harm reduction purpose and/or provide a space for sufferers to openly and honestly share their struggles … Continue reading →

Life After Recovery for Men with Eating Disorders

While there is growing recognition that (surprise, surprise!) men are not immune to eating disorders, men are still underrepresented in the literature about eating disorders. We know comparatively little about what it is like to be a man with an eating disorder, and less still about recovery and life after recovery for these individuals. Recently, Björk, Wallin, & Pettersen (2012) conducted a qualitative study that asked men who had been diagnosed with an eating disorder and completed treatment to describe how recovery factors into their present lives. The researchers interviewed 15 men aged 19-52 (mean age 23) in Norway and Sweden, 10 of whom had been diagnosed with AN, 4 with BN, and 1 with EDNOS. The authors did not specify duration of illness.


The authors used a phenomenographical approach to study recovery among men. Though I am familiar with qualitative methods, this approach was new to … Continue reading →

Eating Disorders: Do Men and Women Differ?

Given that eating disorders disproportionately affect women, it is not unreasonable to assume that men differ from women in clinical presentation, personality and psychological characteristics. My guess would be that they differ. My reasoning is this: males and females grow up facing different pressures and expectations. Given that, I’d think there would be (perhaps only slightly) different risk factors that predispose men and women to develop eating disorders. Thus, I’d think that different groups of men and women (i.e. with different personality characteristics, psychiatric comorbidities, and life experiences) would be susceptible to EDs. (Hopefully that makes sense.) To answer that question, Dr. D. Blake Woodside and colleagues compared men with eating disorders vs. women with eating disorders vs. men without eating disorders.

Why are females much more likely to suffer from eating disorders than males? It appears that (at least) two arguments have been put forth:

One argument has been

Continue reading →

What’s it Like to be a Man with an Eating Disorder?

What is it like for men to live with an eating disorder? What is it like for men to seek and receive treatment for an eating disorder? These are the questions that Kate Robinson and colleagues asked a group of eight men who were receiving treatment (inpatient, day patient or outpatient) at two ED treatment centers in the UK. Their goal was to find out if and how men’s experiences with an eating disorder differ from women with eating disorders.

Men account for roughly 10% of eating disorder patients (when considering anorexia and bulimia, not including binge eating disorder, which is not yet part of the DSM). I suspect this number is actually higher – as less men probably realize they have an ED, admit to having an ED or seek treatment, precisely due to the issues raised in this article (and others). Given that men form a sizeable … Continue reading →

EDs Don’t Discriminate: Psychiatric Comorbidity in Men with Eating Disorders

Eating disorders don’t discriminate, they just have a bias (more on this in the future). While the majority of eating disorder patients are females, males suffer from eating disorders as well. In fact, it is about, roughly, a 10:1 ratio.

Men tend to just keep quiet about it (and who can blame them, given the stigma women face, it only gets worse for the men.) But, on the inside, their experiences, thoughts, behaviours and recovery span the same spectrum.

There’s relatively little research out there on men with eating disorders, in large part due to the low prevalence rates which makes it harder to get a large enough sample size. So, you have to get creative, as the authors of this study did: they reviewed the prevalence of eating disorders and comorbid psychiatric disorders using data from the Veterans Affairs medical centers of male patients in the fiscal year … Continue reading →