By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
There is an alarming rise of eating disorders among men and boys. Psychologist Deanne Jade, founder of the National Centre For Eating Disorders, says while the route into eating disorders may be different for boys and girls, the underlying causes are all the same.
“Boys don’t sit around talking about weight and diets,” she said. “They don’t perceive themselves as fat and they don’t want to look emaciated but they may want to look fit and get involved in sports. Underneath, it’s about being sensitive, having no perspective of when enough is enough, having low self-worth and being a perfectionist. These things are part of the personality of someone who can get an eating disorder.”
“We don’t suddenly have an epidemic of boys with low self-worth - there were always boys with eating disorders, we simply did not recognise it.” This, says Deanne, makes it so hard to find help for boys and young men with eating disorders. “Even today I’m dealing with GPs who refuse to diagnose anorexia in boys - but if they are not treated they will end up extremely ill,” she said.
It is estimated that of the 1.6 million Britons suffering from eating disorders today one fifth are male. But men themselves often don’t understand that they are ill. Deanne believes that the silence that surrounds male eating disorders compounds sufferers’ pain. “They don’t know how to give a name to what is wrong,” she said. “So it becomes a problem they can’t talk about.”
Deanne says the different pressures on boys to look fit and muscular create a whole different range of eating disorders, some never considered before. “Bulking up can be a problem, too,” she said. “It might be that a boy may be taking steroids and throwing up every time he eats carbohydrates. Or he may become addicted to only eating healthy foods and he thinks that this is a normal way to behave. These are eating disorders, too. Our whole culture puts pressure on people to look a certain way and there are images out there that give boys an impossible ideal to aspire to. But there is no single reason why someone may develop an eating disorder.” “It is a very complex illness and we need to be open to the fact that anyone can develop it at any stage in life,” she said.
Recent statistics show about 187, or 3.3 per cent, of children aged 10-17 in Stonnington, have an eating disorder, a figure higher than the state average of 2.4 per cent.
Glen Iris-based Eating Disorders Victoria (EDV) chief executive Jennifer Beveridge said the results were concerning and potentially higher because not everyone experiencing a problem would come forward. “Eating disorders are a long-term problem, people can feel very ashamed,” Ms Beveridge said. “Those figures would be the minimum.” Ms Beveridge said having an eating disorder was a “serious mental illness” linked to a range of underlying factors. “We live in a society that is very focused on body image, looking a certain way and (like) celebrities,” she said.
Toorak Medical Centre GP Andrew Crompton agreed, saying “body beautifuls” and “false impressions” of celebrities contributed to the number of people with eating disorders. Dr Crompton said obesity was also on the rise with adolescents eating too many processed foods. As part of raising awareness and funds, EDV has launched the ‘Feed the Soul’ campaign to coincide with International No Diet Day on Friday, May 6. Ms Beveridge said ‘Feed the Soul’ was a reminder that meal times were about “enjoying eating and the experience that comes with eating with other people”. The campaign will be launched by Minister for Mental Heath Mary Wooldridge at Parliament House on Wednesday, May 2.