July 13th, 2011

Are eating disorders in men really on the rise?

So today has seen a bit of a storm, well a media one anyway. All day on the BBC, in the Independent and in various other outlets eating disorders in men has been a hot topic.

This is following a report by GP’s that there is a rise in men seeking help for eating disorders and a whopping increase in the amount of men being hospitalised because of them.

I had my stint on BBC Oxford today talking about the issue and also a little bit of how I became involved in MGEDT and Eating disorder & Body image campaigning, this was a great opportunity for me to air some of my views on the subject of the rise in eating disorders and I wanted to put some of them in writing this evening, so here it is……

In my eyes we can look at this rise in several ways, first and foremost in my mind this morning when this was all going on was a simple fact, while there is still a long way to go, men are beginning to find doctors and health professionals more approachable. With the massive rise in men’s health awareness and mental health publicity and of course the work charities like the one I work for do to raise awareness, it could be said that the issues is out there, people are slowly become more aware and the stigma is slowly being broken down.

This, alongside the improved peer support, would theoretically make it easier for men to seek help for disordered eating, are we as a society actually becoming more accepting of mental health, especially of a mental illness which has a real gender stigma?

We then of course have the flip side of the argument, could there be a genuine rise in the number of cases of eating disorders in men?

With the pressure in society ever on the increase to attain a certain physical attraction or look a certain way it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if disorders around body image, disordered eating and self-esteem issues were on the increase. 

But I have also always maintained that the way you feel about your appearance will never alone cause an eating disorder, but it can certainly fuel the fire. I have always strongly believed that they are an unhealthy coping strategy of sorts, a way of trying to deal with difficult circumstances, negative emotion and problems you face. But with the constant bombardment of advertising, negative talk about bodies and the assumed body ideal constantly flaunted could it indeed trigger the start of an eating disorder?

These are questions that I don’t think I will ever answer, because an eating disorder is very different from individual to individual, some people will harness the route of their problems surrounding food with body image while others will take life experiences as the root cause, some, like me, may even feel it to be a combination of the two.

So my first question to myself was ‘are eating disorders in men actually on the rise?’ I have managed to ask myself a few more questions since then, but I don’t think the answer is that cut and dry.

Maybe more men are coming forward to seek that all important help, but maybe it is also the case that more men are falling foul of eating disorders.

It would make sense to me for it to be a combination of both factors, it would fit with the pressures and shift in today’s society on both levels, both the pressure to aspire and the openness for discussion to take place about sensitive issues.

Regardless, I think we need to see what has been reported today in a slightly positive light, because for the first time ever, more men are actually coming forward and seeking help, and have not been ashamed to do it. If the men that have created this statistic have come forward, then it means everyone can make that brave step towards recovery.

What do you think? is it that men are feeling more compelled to come forward? or is it that eating disorders are alarmingly on the rise in men? Could it indeed be a combination of factors? do let me know your thoughts.