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Eating Disorders in Young Men: Symptoms and Risk Factors

American society puts an outsized value on people’s appearance. Though we come in all shapes and sizes, our favorite movies and TV shows generally depict attractive people as successful, and equate physical beauty with thinness. The desire to fit in may give rise to a mindset and behaviors associated with eating disorders, even in young men.

Why Do Eating Disorders Occur?

Anyone can develop an eating disorder, but young adults of any gender identity can be especially susceptible to this problem, due to hormonal changes during puberty and peer pressure to have a specific body type. It’s normal to experience these ups and downs, and your child may only occasionally practice unhealthy eating habits.

However, if your son begins to fixate on weight, appearance or food, or regularly under- or overeats, he may be at risk for having an eating disorder. Noticeable weight fluctuations may also be a sign of this issue, especially if your young adult son also tends to make disparaging comments about his body.

How Common Are Eating Disorders in Men?

While there is less research on men with eating disorders than there is with women, that doesn’t mean eating disorders in young men are rare. Indeed, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, one-third of men will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

Eating disorders can take various forms, including eating too little or too much, or going through binge-purge cycles. Unfortunately, perhaps due to cultural expectations, doctors are less likely to diagnose men with an eating disorder than women, which means men struggling with this health problem may not get the help they need.

Another factor contributing to a missed diagnosis of an eating disorder for male patients is that men and women with eating disorders develop them for different reasons. The significant distinction in men is that, while women’s eating disorders tend to focus primarily on losing weight and controlling the amount they eat, men often emphasize the desire to bulk up and build muscle in pursuit of an idealized appearance.  

Warning Signs of Eating Disorders in Young Men

A young man with an eating disorder may display symptoms such as:

  • Compulsively binge-eating to the point of having a stomachache or even feeling nauseated
  • Low self-esteem and distorted body image
  • Having unrealistic expectations for what diet and exercise can help him achieve
  • Fasting in hopes of losing weight more quickly
  • Preoccupation with working out and weight training
  • Exercising to the point of injury
  • Abuse of steroids or other substances to help gain muscle
  • Being harshly judgmental about his appearance

If you suspect your son is developing an eating disorder, don’t hesitate to bring up the topic with him. If he is comfortable being open with you, be supportive and listen to his concerns. You should also have him talk with a doctor or behavioral therapist to address the social or emotional issues that may be driving their eating disorder and related body dysmorphia.

Helping Young Men Discover Their Best Selves

Young men struggling with an eating disorder may also experiment with substance abuse to cope with their most painful emotions and help mute the negative self-talk inside their minds. When these co-occurring disorders start to take over, Spearhead Lodge is here to provide world-class, single-gender addiction treatment tailored to young adult men. When you’re ready to learn more, reach out to us today.