Most people think of anorexia as a female disorder. This is not out of line; it is estimated that 9% of women will suffer from anorexia in their lifetimes while only 3% of men will experience the disorder. This being said, male anorexics are suffering in a unique way. In fact, it can be difficult to obtain current statistics on male sufferers because so much of anorexia treatment’s focus remains on women. If you suspect a boy or young man you love has anorexia nervosa, there are signs you must look for.
Why Young Men Develop Anorexia
Like young women, young men often develop anorexia because of body image problems. They often think they are fat even when they are not or that their body is somehow less than ideal. For example, many young men develop anorexia in conjunction with a compulsion to exercise. They sometimes believe this will help them “bulk up,” which will make them look attractive to females and tougher or more athletic to male friends. Males can develop either a restrictive type of anorexia nervosa or a bingeing and purging type that is closer to bulimia nervosa.
Signs and Symptoms in Males
Again, some of the signs of anorexia nervosa are similar in males and females. Males may develop a fear of weight gain or restrict their food intake like females do. Some signs unique to males may include:
- Low testosterone levels
- Muscle weakness, sometimes associated with too much strength training
- Hair loss and lanugo (growth of downy body hair); this can occur in severe cases with females as well
If you know or suspect a young man in your life has anorexia nervosa, seek help immediately.