Men with eating disorders

For too long, eating disorders have been known only as something girls and women get, but it's becoming more and more apparent that boys and men struggle with them too. Here's what you need to know.

Young man lying back with his head resting on a concrete step

No one talks about it, but men do get eating disorders too.

How common are men with eating disorders?

The truth is, we’re not sure. There aren’t a lot of statistics as men are less likely to ask for help, but an estimated 10-15% of those with eating disorders are male.

“Male eating disorders absolutely do happen,” says psychotherapist Andrea Scherzer. “But men are notorious for not asking for help – even though many are out there suffering,” she says. “They think an eating disorder is a female problem, so are often too embarrassed to open up.”

Despite this, eating disorders in men are more common than we think and men are as equally entitled to seek support as women are.

Are male eating disorders different?

Whoever you are, eating disorders are a mental health condition developed as a way of feeling more in control of your life if other things aren’t going well.

Men do suffer from well-known eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder, however a preoccupation with physique, like getting a six-pack to the point of being unhealthy, can be a problem for guys too.

“What’s more common in men is an obsession with muscle definition,” says Andrea.

There can be a significant pressure on men to become gym buffs and achieve a certain body type, and an obsession with this could spiral into an eating disorder, especially when following strict diet plans that could cause disordered eating.

The physical risks of over-exercising on the body, especially bodies that are still developing, are high and include heart problems, osteoporosis, severe dehydration and stress fractures. There is also a risk to the body by cutting out certain food groups and manipulating diet to achieve a certain body fat.

Why do men develop eating disorders?

It’s not just the pressure to work out and look a certain way that can cause a man to be affected by an eating disorder.

We have be aware that we are living in a patriarchal society where men are stereotypically meant to have control or at least look like they have it.

Any loss of this control, or the fear of it, could result in them finding something that they can control – such as their body and food.

Why isn’t it spoken about?

Quite simply, eating disorders are typically seen as a ‘girl’s thing’, which can put men off seeking help due to embarrassment and/or shame.

Ironically, a fear of showing weakness can also be a reason men are reluctant to seek out and speak out, therefore creating a vicious circle.

Where to get help

Always remember that struggling with a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re weak so don’t be afraid to ask for the support you deserve. Don’t think that because you’re a guy you won’t be taken seriously. Talking to someone you trust is a good first step.

In terms of treatment, you ideally need to see your GP, as they can help you access relevant treatment. If you’re not keen on the idea, you can seek help privately, but it will be quite pricey.

If you are under 18, your GP will usually make a referral to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (also known as CAMHS) which is part of the NHS. If you are over 18 you may be referred to an adult service.

Treatment tends to combine dietary and nutrition advice along with a talking therapy which gives you space to explore your difficulties and address any underlying problems. Treatments for eating disorders are the same whichever gender you are, and take a holistic approach. That means all factors are considered, including physical, psychological, and environmental.

If you don’t quite feel you’re able to open up face to face to anyone yet, the Beat website is a good place to check out. They have loads of support articles, advice on eating disorder treatments, message boards where you can chat anonymously and a helpline (0345 634 7650, every day, 4pm – 10pm) where you can get support from a trained advisor.

Next Steps

  • Men get eating disorders too (MGEDT) run discussion boards for men with eating disorders where you can get peer support.
  • Beat help people overcome eating disorders through helplines, online support and self-help groups. Call 0808 801 0677 or, if you're under 18, call their Youthline on 0808 801 0711.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


Updated on 27-Jul-2016