By Kate Fisch, LCSW
Because we stereotype individuals suffering with an eating disorder as teenage girls, adolescent boys with eating disorders often go overlooked. This is further exacerbated by the fact that eating disorder commonly manifest differently in boys than they do in girls. Typically, eating disordered girls describe an obsession with being thin and an irrational fear of gaining weight. Indeed, eating disordered boys can also have similar focus but often their eating disordered goals are to increase muscle and achieve a more “chiseled” physique. This is sometimes referred to as “reverse anorexia” or “bigorexia.” A physical “façade” reinforced by our sociocultural messages of masculinity.
As we continue to learn more about what eating disorders look like in male adolescents, we will be better able spot their struggle and guide them towards treatment. Fortunately, this seems to be happening already. Statistically, males make up anywhere from a quarter to a third of those diagnosed with eating disorders. Moreover, the research shows that eating disorder behaviors are increasing at a faster rate in males than females. Perhaps more men are suffering from eating disorders than they have in the past. Or another possible explanation might be that the rate of males with eating disorders has stayed the same but because we are doing a better job of recognizing the signs and symptoms more cases of eating disorders in males are being reported.
Regardless of the explanation, adolescent boys are struggling with disordered eating and negative body image more than they should be. And, just like their female counterparts, engaging in eating disorder thoughts and behaviors could have dire consequences. Here are a few signs to look for if you are concerned that an adolescent boy you know is struggling:
- Excessive focus on and time spent exercising
- Regularly vocalizing negativity about his body shape and size
- Rigidity around eating rituals
- Constantly weighing himself or looking in the mirror
- Avoiding or withdrawing from social gatherings involving food
- Obsessively reading nutrition information or counting calories
- Refusing to eat certain food groups
- Having unusual behaviors around food (cutting food into small pieces)
If you recognize any of these signs or symptoms in someone you love, please reach out for help. Call or email Northside today to find out more about scheduling an appointment with one of our eating disorder specialist. You can also find more information at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org