Half of Men With Eating Disorders Don’t Get Help: Eight Warning Signs

Though typically associated with women, men account for a quarter of all eating disorder cases — and many receive no support at all, says eating disorder charity Beat

“Eating disorders affect 1.25 million people in the UK and we estimate that one in four of these are men,” said Tom Quinn, Beat’s director of external affairs, speaking at this year’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week (27 February – 5 March). March).

“We surveyed men across the UK about their experiences of eating disorders and found, alarmingly, that more than half had never received treatment for their eating disorder and one in three had never attempted treatment.

“There is a pernicious misconception that eating disorders are women’s diseases, which creates a great deal of shame and can anchor harmful behaviors in men who are unwell,” adds Quinn.

The Beat survey found that up to seven in 10 men with eating disorders said they had never heard of or read about another man with an eating disorder before they felt unwell. “In fact, a lot of men said they didn’t think men could develop eating disorders before,” Quinn points out.

“We know that raising public awareness of men with eating disorders is tremendously important, to increase understanding of who may be affected by these serious mental illnesses, to enable men to recognize warning signs in themselves and others, and to seek treatment.”

Many of the survey participants admitted to being afraid of how others would react to their eating disorder, unaware that they need support and not knowing what treatment is available.

“The sooner someone accesses treatment for eating disorders, the better their chances of a full recovery, which is why it’s so concerning that men aren’t getting the treatment they need,” stresses Quinn.

“We want to reassure all men who are concerned about their health that there is nothing to be ashamed of when they have an eating disorder. Please contact your GP as soon as possible – you deserve help and it is available.”

Everyone experiences eating disorders differently, notes Quinn — but there are some behavioral, psychological, and physical signs people can look out for. Here, Quinn tells us eight warning signs of eating disorders…

1. Mood swings

“Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that can often feel overwhelming, isolating, and distressing, and mood swings can be one of the first things others notice,” says Quinn. Friends and family may notice signs that someone is sleeping poorly, can’t concentrate, or seems more irritable than usual.

2. Say they ate earlier/later

To hide how much they actually eat, someone with an eating disorder may avoid what/when they ate. “A person who is uncomfortable with an eating disorder may also say that they have eaten earlier or will eat later, or that they have eaten more than they have,” explains Quinn.

3. It takes a long time to eat meals/stick to a strict diet/avoid food

Behavioral warning signs can include a strict diet, avoidance of food, fear of eating in front of others, or very long meal times, Quinn says. “This may mean that someone has become distressed about their food intake and may be restricting their diet.”

4. Food is lost / food is hidden

When friends or relatives notice that food is being inexplicably lost or hidden, it may indicate that someone is struggling with binge eating.

“This is distressing eating disorder behavior in which sufferers eat large amounts in a short period of time and people often feel like they have no control over what they eat,” says Quinn. “This is common in people with bulimia or binge eating disorder.”

5. Going to the bathroom immediately after eating

People with bulimia may experience depletion, where they compensate for what they’ve eaten by feeling sick, taking laxatives, or exercising excessively. “You may notice that the person goes to the bathroom right after eating,” notes Quinn.

6. Sensitivity to food

Some people may be extremely sensitive to the smell or texture of certain foods, which may indicate they have an avoidant/restrictive feeding disorder (ARFID), which affects approximately 5% of people with eating disorders.

“People with ARFID may have a low interest in food or have difficulty eating enough, which may be related to sensory avoidance or a distressing food experience,” explains Quinn.

7. Strict fitness routines

Someone with an eating disorder may try to burn off the food they’ve eaten by exercising excessively. Quinn warns, “You may find yourself locked into an exercise routine or feeling distressed when exercise isn’t possible.”

8. Physical changes

Physical signs of an eating disorder can include weight loss or gain, fatigue, and abdominal pain—but someone with an eating disorder doesn’t necessarily have to be underweight or a young girl.

“There’s a misconception that you have to be underweight to have an eating disorder, but eating disorders affect people of all weights, heights, ages, races and genders,” stresses Quinn.

“While eating disorders can have physical signs like weight loss or gain, abdominal pain, or hair loss, it’s important to remember that eating disorders are mental illnesses. It’s important to pay attention to the psychological and behavioral symptoms, as these are much more common.”

For more information on eating disorders, visit Beat’s website (beateatingdisorders.org.uk).

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