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Bulimia in Men: Risk Factors and Treatment

Many people assume that eating disorders such as bulimia only affect women, but according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), in the USA alone, 10 million men will be affected by eating disorders at some point in their lives. Of those, approximately 1.5 million will have bulimia.

Bulimia is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder that is characterized by binging on large amounts of food in a short period of time and then purging to avoid weight gain. Purging can come in the form of self-induced vomiting, laxative and diuretic misuse, and excessive exercise.

Risk Factors

Body image pressure is one of the biggest risk factors of an eating disorder in men. The factors behind men’s dissatisfaction with their body are complex. Male weight and body image concerns are different from those of women – where women strive for thinness, men generally want to gain muscle mass. One important contributor to men’s body image issues is society’s portrayal of the ideal male body as being muscular and toned. This ideal is further perpetuated by the media and the fitness industry. Any attempts to attain this unrealistic “ideal” body often increases one’s susceptibility to eating disorders.

However, bulimia isn’t always about body image. Sometimes, men may develop bulimia as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, or other uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. Both men and women report that bulimia provides temporary relief from their stressors. This is because bulimia is a maladaptive coping mechanism, as well as a mental illness. If left unchecked, it can lead to a variety of physical and mental health consequences, such as negatively impacting the growth and development of adolescent boys, and compromising the bones, heart, and endocrine system of adult men.

Treatment Considerations

Unfortunately, eating disorders in men are under-diagnosed and under-treated. Men get treatment for eating disorders less frequently than women do, likely because of shame, stigmas against mental health treatment, the myth that only women have eating disorders, or other stereotypes that make it hard for men to seek help.

For men, bulimia treatment in Westport and elsewhere requires a gender-sensitive approach. Some men may feel uncomfortable when they participate in a predominantly female treatment program. Because of this, all-male therapeutic groups are often ideal for men dealing with an eating disorder. These all-male groups encourage men to disclose their issues with their body image or with food with other men, thereby creating a space where they can help each other feel safer when revealing problems with self-image. Having men talk about their struggle with bulimia may also dispel the belief that it is a “women’s disease.”

One thing to remember about bulimia is that, despite popular notions, it does not discriminate according to gender, sexual orientation, sex, age, size, race, income, educational level, or ethnicity. Anyone can develop an eating disorder.

Whether male or female, The Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Health will help you get appropriate treatment for your eating disorder. We treat a range of conditions, from eating disorders and anxiety to substance abuse and depressive disorders. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our services.