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Eating Disorder Differences in Men and Women

Eating Disorder Differences in Men and Women

Eating disorder differences in men and women are often subtle. As a result, they can be mistaken for other illnesses. It is a common misconception that eating disorders are a choice or just being overly dedicated to a diet, but those are untrue. Another even bigger misconception is that eating disorders only affect women.

As many as 25 to 40 percent of people with eating disorders are males, despite usually being underestimated to less than 10 percent. Accurate data is limited mainly due to men being less likely to seek help—and even when they do, they are often misdiagnosed.

Eating disorder differences in men and women

Age group

In males, eating disorders tend to develop later in life compared to females. However, anorexia prior to puberty is essentially equal between both sexes.

Based on available data, girls as young as 6 years old may start to express concerns about their body weight and image. A major contributor to this pressure are peers and the media have a preference for the slender ideal and appearance in general. In addition, children of mothers with eating disorders or who are overly concerned with their weight are at greater risk of developing the same or similar conditions later in life.

Common Myths and Facts About Eating Disorders

Sexual orientation

While the number of men with eating disorders may be underestimated, a large percentage of the men that do seek help for and get diagnosed with an eating disorder identify as gay or bisexual. In contrast, lesbian women experience less body dissatisfaction compared to heterosexual men and women.

The reason may be that people within the LGBTQA community are more susceptible to other mental health issues due to a variety of factors such as bullying, discrimination, and isolation. Meanwhile, heterosexual men are less likely to seek help for eating disorders. However, most studies on eating disorders typically do not ask patients their sexual orientation as part of the criteria so these numbers may be larger than what has been reported.

Accompanying mental health disorders

In both sexes, eating disorders are often accompanied by other mental health illnesses. Men with eating disorders may also suffer from comorbidities such as depression, drug or substance use, anxiety, and excessive exercising. They spend more time at the gym, have extreme eating habits, and may resort to using anabolic steroids.

In women, eating disorders may still suffer from other mood or mental illnesses, but at a lesser rate than men. In studies, young girls who dieted were more likely to develop an eating disorder. Girls are also likely to fast, do crash or fad diets, take diet pills, or use laxatives.

eating disorder differences in men and women

Symptoms and behaviors

Eating disorder differences in men and women also include how severely the disorders affect their health. Because the social and “ideal” standards are different for men and women, it makes sense that those with eating disorders have different triggers and goals.

Women experience more fluctuations in weight and size than men due to hormones, especially before or during menstruation. However, many girls and women tend to feel self-conscious because of this. Social media often pressures women to be flawless and have unrealistic proportions. Diets and weight-loss products typically target women, which only adds fuel to the fire. Females who seek medical help for eating disorders may be extremely thin and malnourished.

On the other hand, men with eating disorders are arguably healthier. This is mainly because male ideals favor physically strong and fit individuals rather than thinness. This is one of the reasons why eating disorders in men are harder to identify and harder to treat.

While proper diet and exercise are definitely healthy, over-training and restrictive diets can do more harm than good. Additionally, improper use of whey or other dietary supplements can cause liver and kidney damage.

Associated physical health risks

Awareness of your body and maintaining a healthy weight are normal, but eating disorders can create an unrealistic body image for oneself. Anorexia and bulimia can easily cause under or malnutrition. This leads to muscle weakness, hair-loss, lethargy, and multiple organ damage. In addition, bulimia can cause tooth decay, sore throat, and dehydration.

Men may experience more fat loss and muscle wasting than women. Women with anorexia may experience irregular or no menstruation (amenorrhea), which can affect fertility. Even after therapy and feeding, negative effects like heart and organ damage may still be seen.

Key takeaways

In conclusion, eating disorders should always be considered regardless of a person’s gender or sexual orientation. It is a serious condition that requires both physical and psychological treatment. While it may be hard to seek help, we encourage you to talk to a doctor or counselor to address any health concerns you may have.

Learn more about Eating Disorders here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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Written by Stephanie Nicole Nera, RPh, PharmD Updated May 26