Eating Disorders in Men and Boys
Society tends to depict eating disorders as “female” illnesses, but this couldn’t be further than the truth. Men and boys get eating disorders too, but stereotypes and media depictions continue to center girls and women. As a result, millions of men and boys go undiagnosed and suffer alone—many without even realizing they have a problem. There are a lot of reasons why so many men and boys continue to slip through the cracks of eating disorder treatment: shame and stigma, differences in gender presentation, and lack of competent care, to name a few. What’s more, it often takes getting extremely sick for a man or boy to finally get a diagnosis, meaning men and boys tend to enter treatment at a later stage and with more severe eating disorder symptoms. The good news is that evidence-based treatment works just as well for men and boys as it does for women and girls. With increased awareness about what eating disorders in men and boys look like and how to best support them, lasting recovery is possible for all men and boys struggling.

Facts and statistics about eating disorders in men and boys:

  • One third of all people reporting eating disorder behaviors are men or boys, including approximately a quarter of those with anorexia and bulimia, half of those with binge eating disorder, and a majority of those with ARFID.
  • Eating disorders may present differently in men and boys, with a focus on muscularity rather than weight loss.
  • Men and boys represent 25% of individuals with anorexia and face a higher risk of dying. This is in part because they’re often diagnosed later—many people mistakenly assume men and boys don’t have eating disorders.
  • Men with eating disorders have a later onset of illness than women, generally later in their teenage years as opposed to adolescence or early-mid teenage years.
  • Men who were bullied in childhood often develop disordered eating and engage in compensatory exercise.
Common questions about eating disorders in men and boys

Because there’s so much misinformation and stigma around eating disorders in men and boys, those struggling can feel particularly isolated and unable to reach out for help. That means concerned loved ones may need to take a more proactive role in initiating frank conversations. It’s important to approach these conversations from a place of curiosity rather than accusation, and to hear whatever your loved one has to say without judgment or criticism.

It can also be important to help your loved one find social support that lets them know they’re not alone. This might mean a support group for men and boys with eating disorders, a male peer in recovery, or online communities.

You can also help support them by challenging your own internal beliefs about eating disorders and gender. Be aware of the implicit biases you may have, and when you see biases elsewhere—on TV, in social media, in conversation—call them out. Your words and actions will not only raise awareness about eating disorders in men and boys, but also show your loved one that you see and validate their experience.

Oftentimes, yes. And because typically “female” eating disorder symptoms are the ones that are most commonly known, this difference in gender presentation contributes to underdiagnosis among men and boys.

Here are some potential differences between male and female eating disorder symptoms:

  • Men and boys with eating disorders may show less concern for their weight and body size.
  • Men and boys with eating disorders are less likely to strive for thinness, but rather for being lean and muscular.
  • Men tend to develop eating disorders later in life than women do, typically in the later teenage years.
  • Men are less likely to report out-of-control binge eating.

It’s important to note that these differences don’t apply to every man or boy with an eating disorder. Men and boys with eating disorders may have more typically “female” symptoms, or different symptoms entirely.

Men and boys account for about one-third of those with eating disorders, a significant proportion that may be higher given how many men and boys go undiagnosed and untreated. Plus, men are nearly as likely as women to have disordered eating habits that don’t meet criteria for an eating disorder diagnosis but still negatively affect their health and life.

Eating disorders often look different in men and boys, and because most people are more familiar with typically “female” symptoms, male eating disorders can hide in plain sight. While girls and women might show more obvious red flags, like extreme weight loss and/or restriction, boys and men might show symptoms that are considered normal or even praised in our society, like “bulking and cutting,” or spending an excessive amount of time at the gym.

In addition to that, assessments traditionally used to screen for eating disorders often rely on typically female criteria. In fact, it wasn’t until 2013 that amenorrhea—the absence of one’s period—was removed from the DSM-5 as mandatory criteria for an anorexia diagnosis.

There’s also the reality of shame and stigma. Because eating disorders are so often viewed as female diseases, men and boys who are struggling might feel ashamed or embarrassed about their problem, or are even unaware that they could have an eating disorder. And because our culture tends to teach men and boys to hide their emotions, these feelings often remain buried.

Another barrier is that there’s simply a lack of proper eating disorder care for men and boys in the healthcare space. Many healthcare providers remain unaware of how common eating disorders are among men and boys, and many treatment centers cater specifically to a population of girls and women.

How Equip supports men and boys with eating disorders

We know that men and boys face specific challenges in eating disorder recovery, and our treatment model is designed to help them successfully overcome each. We have a diverse team of providers that includes both men and boys with lived experience of overcoming an eating disorder and family members who have supported their sons in eating disorder recovery. This mentorship component can be crucial to recovery. Our providers have experience working with men and boys struggling with all types of eating disorders, and practice with a nuanced and informed approach to the specific ways eating disorders show up in men and boys. We also offer a support group specifically for caregivers of boys and men.
If you think you or a boy or man in your life may be struggling with an eating disorder, finding prompt treatment is vital.
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Our patients are getting better
ARFID is a relatively new diagnosis, so not all eating disorder providers are well-versed in its nuances. At Equip, our provider team includes those with in-depth ARFID expertise, as well as people with lived experience overcoming ARFID or supporting a loved one through ARFID recovery. We have successfully treated many ARFID patients and know how to navigate the specific challenges that come with this unique eating disorder.
Average weekly weight gain for those who need it
8 in 10
Patients report a decrease in eating disorder behaviors
Of patients report improvements with depression or anxiety
My daughter's eating disorder seemed insurmountable, but Equip truly saved her. The coordinated support was incredible and it is so easy to schedule sessions. I wholeheartedly recommend Equip.
Dad of a 16-year-old with anorexia
I was pervasively hopeless about recovering prior to finding Equip and now I feel so optimistic about my journey for the first time ever.
45-year-old with bulimia
Equip was there for us day and night. Any time we needed help they held our hands and walked us through the darkness; all we had to do was trust their professional expertise.
Sister of a 19-year-old with anorexia
Equip was the best thing that ever happened to me. Interacting with a team that truly cared about me was transformational. Last year, I felt broken. Today, I feel whole.
33-year-old with BED
This has been the missing link on our journey. The convenience of scheduling; virtual options; complete team of providers; it is saving my daughter's life.
Mother of a 13-year-old with ARFID
I love the team approach that touches every aspect. Their positive approach has inspired my son to want to improve and take a lot of the initiative to do so himself.
Mother of a 18-year-old with OSFED