Professor Hubert Lacey, who runs the eating disorder unit at St George's Hospital in London, has seen the number of male referrals double in the past few years.
"These are just my observations and because the numbers are so small, statistics can be misleading but I think there has been a cultural change," he said."The recession is a factor because when jobs are under threat, people think more about how they present themselves."
In my book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want, I have dedicated a chapter to males and eating disorders, because of the alarming statistics: one in ten young adults and one in four children diagnosed with anorexia are male1 . As Prof Lacey points out, this figure could be even higher given that traditionally males are less likely to seek help because the common belief is that anorexia and bulimia are female conditions, which threatens their masculinity.
Equally disturbing is the emerging trend in guys who believe they do not have big enough muscles and as a result, develop an obsession with lifting weights in their quest to attain a muscular physique. This is referred to as muscle dysmorphia, or bigorexia, and drives guys to exercise obsessively every day because they experience feelings of acute shame about their bodies. It is estimated that 17% of males are on some form of diet and that steroid abuse and exercise disorders are increasing in the young male population2. This shows how drastically males are suffering from low self esteem and body image issues.
The onset of an eating disorder in males is usually due to a specific trigger or set of triggers, such as childhood bullying, emotional abuse, difficulties dealing with being gay and parental strictness especially from a father.
One of the males interviewed by Sky News, Aaron aged 31, says "My job contributed to a sense of purposelessness in life. Losing weight was a way of regaining the sense of self worth, improvement and achievement."
Rob aged 15, says "...in my case, the sense of rampant, desperate competition and definition of self worth through attainment... served to push me farther down a path to self destruction. "
Mitchell Doyle was bullied and developed anorexia as a teenager, and his remarkable story of recovery is profiled in Why Can't I Look the Way I Want. He says "the voice in your head is strong, but you are stronger. The eating disorder will divide you as a person, but the best feeling is being able to wake up and be happy with who you are. My last word to you is to keep holding on, even when dignity fails. Aim high, aim to win, aim to live.
Words that I hope, with a greater awareness of bigorexia and manorexia, males will choose to live by.
1 Paxton, S. (1998) 'Do men get eating disorders?', Everybody - Newsletter of Body Image and Health Inc., Vol 2, August, p.41
2 Weekend Australian, April 1999