Although eating disorders are often commonly thought of as a female disorder, it’s very possible for males to develop eating disorders as well. In fact, some research is beginning to point to the fact that eating disorders may be a gender-neutral disorder. In general, women tend to develop the disorder more often than men.
Yet, it’s important that health providers don’t overlook males who might be suffering from an eating disorder, and this goes for eating disorders in male teens as well. In fact, one study that included 1,383 adolescents found that there were eating disorders in male teens present in 1.2% of surveyed teens at 14 years, 2.6% at 17 years, and 2.9% at 20 years of age.
In order to diagnose eating disorders in male teens, the adolescent must exhibit symptoms that indicate there is a problem that limits their functioning as well as their physical and psychological health. Generally, there are four types of eating disorders. These are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, eating disorder not otherwise specified, and binge eating disorder.
Anorexia Nervosa in Male Teens
Broadly speaking, anorexia nervosa is the excessive control of food intake while bulimia nervosa is the loss of control of food intake. Anorexia nervosa includes a refusal to maintain a body weight that is considered within a normal range for age and height. A male teen with this disorder might also exhibit an intense fear of gaining weight or being fat, even though the client is underweight.
Bulimia Nervosa in Male Teens
A male teen with bulimia nervosa might have recurrent episodes of binge eating as well as behavior that attempts to compensate for the overeating such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, frequent fasting, or excessive exercise. There are two types of bulimia nervosa:
- The first is the purging type, which is the regular occurrence of this behavior as a way to compensate for the binge eating.
- The second is the absence of purging but uses other forms of compensatory behavior. In the initial stages of this disorder, the compensatory behavior, such as binging, is a way to ease the guilt from having eaten so much food. However, later it becomes a method of mood regulation.
Research on Eating Disorders in Males
Another study on eating disorders in males indicates that males have a lifetime prevalence of 0.3% for anorexia nervosa, 0.5% for bulimia nervosa, and 2% for binge eating disorder (BED). In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including:
- Anorexia nervosa
- Bulimia nervosa
- Binge eating disorder
- Eating disorder not otherwise specified
When a research study was conducted on a large university campus which included 2,822 students, researchers found that that 3.6% of males had positive screens for an eating disorder. The female-to-male ratio was 3-to-1.
Furthermore, another study explored the relationship between sexual orientation and eating disorders. The study found that a higher percentage of gay (15%) than heterosexual males (5%) had a diagnosis of an eating disorder. However, generally, the majority of males with an eating disorder are heterosexual.
Treatment for Teen Eating Disorder
It’s important to remember that treatment is necessary for anyone diagnosed with an eating disorder. Sometimes, an eating disorder can be fatal. In fact, some studies suggest that risk of mortality for males with an eating disorder is higher than it is for females.
Treatment will include the support of a doctor to monitor the medical consequences that come with the illness as well as a therapist to treat the psychological aspect of the disorder. It’s also important to remember that eating disorders in male teens tend to cause the teen to also suffer from other psychological illness such as depression and anxiety.
If you are a parent or caregiver who is concerned about your male teen and his eating habits, contact a mental health professional today.