When you hear of someone with an Eating Disorder, do you usually think of a pale under nourished frail woman or a sad depressed chubby housewife? Maybe you think of someone famous like Princess Diana or Karen Carpenter? Whatever the image is in your mind, it isn’t usually an excessively muscular man or an average looking boy in skinny jeans.
Men and boys have been suffering from Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating behaviors just as long as females. Let’s look back in history at English physician Richard Morton. In 1689, he published one of the first case studies on anorexia. His description of the disease was, “Phthisolgia: Or a Treatise of Consumptions,” a syndrome involving loss of appetite and extreme fasting without any evidence of known disease. The case involved two patients, one female and the other male. Morton’s study of the male highlighted the heaviness the 16-year-old felt to be a “good provider” and achieve success for his family. Morton’s advice was to move to the country, take up riding, and drink a lot of milk. Not entirely different from luxury rehabs today.
Robert Willan was an English physician based in London. His research in the 1800’s was mainly done on males. His paper “A Remarkable Case of Abstinence,” was published in the Medical Communications in 1790. It describes the case of a young Englishman who died in 1786 after fasting for 78 days. Although fasting for religious purpose is highly regarded, I have to question if at some point the “mental obsession” (as we call it in recovery) gets triggered. A mental obsession is an inappropriate cause of marked anxiety. Compulsions are defined by repetitive behaviors or mental acts that the person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession, or according to rules that must be applied rigidly. Unlike drug and alcohol abuse, where the person feels a lack of control, some eating disorders (anorexia for example) give the false illusion of control over something bigger. The obsession of control starts to feel like a great achievement and a false but dangerous sense of pride.
Men have always had the pressure to be the “hunter,” and be “in control.” For centuries we have heard the tales of heroes like, Heracles, Superman, and James Bond with masculine physiques, take charge attitudes, and super powers to woo the ladies. It is no surprise men are suffering from similar body image bullshit, as women. Have you looked a Ken doll?
Facts About Male ED:
1. 25-40% of people with Eating Disorders are Men -The National Association for Males with Eating Disorders
2. As many men as women want to change their weight (Andersen, 2000).
3 .Men engage in eating-disordered behaviors nearly as often as women (Mond, 2013).
4. Eating disorders assessment tests underscore males (Darcy, 2014).
5. Additionally, prevalence of eating disorders in males is greater than estimated because men are often too stigmatized to seek treatment for “women’s problems.” (Cohn, 2013)
6. Despite popular beliefs, eating disorders have never been “women’s diseases,” and professionals in the field are realizing this fact more and more (Cohn, 2014).
7.The earliest case descriptions of anorexia nervosa by Richard Morton in 1690 included cases of a man and a woman (Andersen, 2014).
8. Media objectification and sexualization of males is just as rampant as for females (Cohn, 2013).
9. A high percentage of comorbid conditions exist for males in treatment, such as excessive exercise, poor body image, and issues with sexuality (Weltzin, 2014 )
10. Attention to gender dynamics is critical in the process of treatment (Bunnell, 2014).
Men are less likely to seek treatment for eating disorders because of the perception that they’re “women diseases.” Eating disorders are addictions and just like other addictions there is no discrimination between gender, nationality or age, in my opinion. Addictions are deadly diseases that take shape in many different forms. An eating disorder can be someone’s drug of choice. The good news is that there are solutions, and no one has to suffer alone. Help is always available at email@example.com.
1. Focus on the qualities in yourself that you like that are not related to appearance. Spend time developing these capacities rather than letting your appearance define your identity and your worth.
2 .Expand your idea of “masculinity” to include qualities such as sensitivity, cooperation, caring, and patience, having feelings, being artistic.
3. Be Patient! The path to recovery involves many emotions and setbacks and it can be a long journey. It is important to be as calm and patient as possible throughout the recovery process and to remain as supportive as you can.
4. Be aware of the negative messages you tell yourself. For example, if you start giving yourself a message like, “I look gross,” substitute a positive affirmation, “I accept myself and my body.”
5 .Appreciate how your body functions and has an amazing ability to heal its self. The human body is a marvelous creation; every organ and cell has an incredible purpose. Being mindful about how your body function’s builds gratitude.
6. Build healthy recovery tools. Whether that is a Twelve Step program, one on one therapy, or talking to a trusted mentor, build a plan for recovery. Have a healthy goal you want to achieve in recovery. Create coping tools so that you can achieve your goal. Stay accountable to someone else.
Is There a “Weight” Limit to Your Love?
We turn ourselves into perfect images; all wrapped up in ideal bodies, hoping people will buy us. The image seems to contain no flaws, healthy regimes, and enthusiastic workout routines. Every day we are saturated with images of the “perfect physique” from magazines, movies, social media, and bombarded to become more attractive in order to win attention from the “perfect” lover.
We all know that sexual attraction in a partner is important, but how far are we taking it. I asked a few friends to be honest about this subject, to flush out the truth on a subject. I like to call this “learning to let go of the false image”.
If there is a “perfect” image of one self, then most likely there is an image of our “perfect” partner. We look for a partner that lives up to this mental image and ignore those “lesser” beings that don’t match our standards.
One of my girlfriends is tall and very beautiful. She modeled in New York after college. The type of girl that most of us look at and say, “I wish I looked like her”. The perfect image right? However when she was in college she played volleyball. She was involved with a guy that wouldn’t commit to a relationship and that always puzzled her. Ten years later they sat down for coffee and she asked him, “Why didn’t you want to be my boyfriend in college?”
His reply, I cared for you a lot, blah blah….but you were on the volleyball team, and the team was known as the “Fat Girls”.
Confused and offend, she saided, “But I wasn’t fat.”
And that’s when he came out with it, “It would have been bad for my image.” His image was also wrapped up in what his friends thought. Not only was it important to have a beautiful woman by his side, but her friends and the people surrounding him had to fit his “image” too.
Men get the backlash of this, too. Meet Jason, he dated a female athlete that was used to being around other male athletes. He was naturally skinny, surfed from time to time, but wasn’t a big buff guy. What he lacked in muscles, he made up for in wit and a sharp sense of rumor. His girlfriend, on the other hand, was lean and had a six-pack. She ran 7 miles a day and was cocky about the fact, that if she had to she could beat him up. He felt emasculated and weak. So, he tried lifting weights to become something he thought she wanted. In the end, it wasn’t enough. She continued to tease him and give him “advice” about his body, but she was trying to make into to something he wasn’t. The final straw for him was when she said, “You’ll never be able to keep up with me.”
In general we don’t all excel at everything. Some may be more in tune with their emotional side, or like Jason be very funny and witty. Our true selves have many assets and should not be covered up.
This self-image game doesn’t end for even settled married couples. A friend of my mother had been married for years. Her husband’s job kept him away from home a lot. When he was home, he didn’t seem interested in her. She decided to become a “perfect image” wife. She lost weight, got a long blonde wig, and started wearing sexy clothes. The result was not what she expected. He asked her, “What the hell are you doing?” Instead of finding why he was feeling detached from her and the family, she went to the solution that social media said was what he wanted, a perfect, sexy woman.
Lastly the one I hear most as coach, “If I lose the weight then they will come back to me.” Every time I look into someone’s eyes after they have said something like this, I can see the sadness and depression. It’s painful. I want to swoop them up in my arms and tell them they are enough just the way they are. The partner we attract is always a reflection of ourselves. Many times, it is one that fills the lack we feel inside ourselves. Only letting go of the perfection in our minds that we must achieve a certain physique, allows us more freedom to truly get know the person inside. I encourage you to do a bit of time traveling, think about past lovers. What did these relationships for fill in that moment of your life? Maybe you thought you wanted control, or a parental figure. The point is to start to find a connection or a pattern.
You see Losing weight or changing the outside image won’t bring a “perfect partner.” Love doesn’t depend on external value or at least it shouldn’t. There is no lack inside you, just a false image of yourself. Let it go!! To quote Deepak Chopra, “There is only you and the love you bring.”
Gotta Get Those Gains Bro!
Bigorexia was officially recognized in 1997. Alternate names for the condition are “muscle dysmorphia” and “reverse anorexia.” The main characteristic is a misguided belief that the body is never muscular enough. Normal weightlifters admit to spending 40 minutes a day thinking about body development; men and women with bigorexia report body-related preoccupations of 5 or more hours a day. Though the underlying causes are not known, research indicates bigorexia is a combination of obsessive-compulsive behavior and social pressure.
While anorexia drives the relentless pursuit of thinness, bigorexia causes an altered self-image and obsessive yearning for bigger and better muscles. A person suffering from this disorder doesn’t look at himself or herself and see a muscular physique. Instead, they see an image that is unremarkable, weak and puny.
The mental obsession about diet, exercise, weight, and body image navigates a loves/hate relationship with the mirror. The average person who suffers from this will check to see how they are achieving results 10-40 times a day.
It is no wonder this being called “reverse anorexia.” Although bigorexic is primarily identified in men, women bodybuilders suffer as well. A high percentage undergoes the pressure to take steroids or HGH (Human Growth Hormones). Unfortunately this usually ends with diagnoses of anxiety disorder, ODC, and or mental disorders. Statically the odds of the person getting help aren’t good. This is usually because they are unwilling to see there is a problem.
I read one article where one man was unwilling to make love to his wife because it would waste too much energy. Energy he needed for the gym. So she left him and although he was upset, he wasn’t willing to stop, “ his routine.” Sadly, this is the definition of addiction. Addiction is the repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable.
It is crazy that there is a rise of “orexia’s”. I’ve heard drunkorexic (I have identified has one), manorexic, brideorexic, and there is more cute/lame names. Is it getting trendy to be sick? Or just more socially acceptable?
Orthorexia is it a eating disorder?
Let’s start with a brief description of what orthorexia is: “Having orthorexia nervosa not only means that people are obsessed with eating “healthily,” but also that they have a specific attitude to food, they prepare their food in a certain way as well as avoid consumption of some foods or all of a some group of foods since they consider them to be harmful for their health. The quality of the foods they consume is more important than personal values, interpersonal relationships, career plans, and social relationships. In fact, the desire to consume healthy foods is not a disturbing behavior in and of itself, and it is only defined as orthorexia nervosa when it causes a person to give up his or her normal lifestyle. Orthorexia nervosa could not be labeled as a new eating disorder because it does not include the most characteristic symptoms of anorexia and bulimia nervosa that is immense fear of be- coming fat, extreme weight-control behavior, as well as overvaluation of shape and weight. However, since orthorexia involves disturbance of eating habits it ought to be treated as a disorder concerning abnormal eating behavior inseparably linked with obsessive-compulsive symptoms (on account of paying too much attention to consuming healthy food and constant thinking about the quality of food intake).”(Brytek-Matera, 2012)
So, if the debate centers on the fact that orthorexia behaviors are generally not driven by body image concerns, then it would be easy to make the argument that orthorexia shouldn’t be paired with anorexia and bulimia. However, I don’t know if I agree. The mental obsession around food and what is or “isn’t” going into their bodies is as elevated as a person suffering from anorexia and bulimia.
It also brings up another great question. Are eating disorders defined only when the person has a fear of becoming fat? I have to say a big Fat No from my experience. I had a client tell me the other day that her eating disorder was a direct way to recreate trauma. In my opinion, eating disorders do not have to do with weight or body image at all. They may become a symptom of a fear, but the drive to cope with pain is usually the main trigger.
So why is it important that we discuss this at all? Eating disorder recovery is where alcoholism was 20 years ago. The media is starting to shine a brighter light on it. Mental health is being discussed on bigger platforms and with this new wave comes new awareness, addiction titles, and addiction diagnoses. (Look at the growth of the definitions, and treatment communities.)
When it comes to orthorexia, it seems to be a socially acceptable behavior. On the outside it looks “healthy”. If one were to go on Pintrest or Google and look up holistic eating, mindful eating, gluten free, paleo, macros, really, the list would go on and on. The nation is obsessed with these “so called healthy” lifestyles. While, it isn’t unhealthy to want to eat well and take care of your body, it is a problem when it becomes the solution to your pain. When it becomes, obsessive and takes control of everything you once cared about, it becomes an addiction.
When I was younger, I loved to eat out with my family. We would go to a mom and pop Italian restaurant down the street. As my eating disorder grew, I eventually stopped going with my family. I claimed there wasn’t anything “healthy or clean on the menu”. Now that I have 3 years in recovery I will go and enjoy myself. Knowing that it wasn’t the food I was running from. It was the pain and trauma the food represented. I was using an eating disorder as a way to cope with trauma and I got addicted to the behavior.
Not all eating disorders or mental illnesses can be put in the same box. The recovery and treatment for one should be based on the individual experience. I’m relieved we are in a period where we are examining and discussing these issues head on. I went to treatment in the 90’s and eating disorders had a huge stigma behind them. Getting help for one was very “hush hush” and recovery was treated more like a phase. And I didn’t grow out of it until 2014.
The purpose for the blog is because I have been asked a couple interesting questions. One client asked me if it was ok to take HGH (human growth hormone). His claim was that it is ok because it’s considered “California Sober” to be overly muscular. That didn’t make sense, so I asked for an explanation. He replied that being obsessed with size or muscle mass is a trend in the sober male community.
Another question I got was, “Am I in danger of a Eating Disorder if all I eat is clean food? I eat every meal, but I won’t eat anything that isn’t pure or organic. The thought of unclean food totally disgusts me.”
After hearing these questions, in the past few days, I’ve seen several news articles about Orthorexia and Bigorexia. Aside from the personal agony they can cause, there also seems to be a current cultural obsession.
Many of the news articles write that Orthorexia is a “newly recognized” eating disorder, even if it isn’t in the DSM (psychiatry’s Bible). I hear a lot more about Orthorexia now then when it was first diagnosed (1997), that’s for sure. Especially with the growth of smartphones and features like Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and other platforms, Orthorexia has become more frequently discussed. A person (male or female but statically more females) suffering with Othorexia will obsess over clean eating and maintain the perfect diet. They fixate (obsessively and compulsively) on foods; supplements and ingredients that make them feel pure. Rarely do they eat out, distrusting anything that isn’t prepared in a “clean” way.
Bigorexia, better know as Muscle Dysmorphia, is a disorder that causes a person (men or women but statically more males) suffering it to constantly obsess and/or worry about being small, underdeveloped, and/or underweight. Typically those who have Muscle Dysmorphia are not frail or underdeveloped at all, and actually have large muscle mass. They obsess about having the perfect physique and believe their muscles are inadequate. This disorder is another form of Body Dysmorphia and is closely related to OCD.
However, can we actually call it a new disorder? In other words, is it an eating disorder in different clothing? Or could it be more related to obsessive-compulsive disorder than eating disorders? This question will be the subject of my next posts.