Half of men with eating disorders don’t get any help: 8 warning signs somebody needs support
Over half of men with an eating disorder have never had any treatment, according to new research.
Despite typically being linked with females, males account for a quarter of all eating disorder cases – and many are not getting any support, the eating disorder charity Beat is highlighting
“Eating disorders affect 1.25 million people in the UK, and we estimate one in four of those are men,” says Tom Quinn, Beat’s director of external affairs – speaking to mark this year’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 27 – March 5).
“We surveyed men across the UK about their experiences of an eating disorder and, alarmingly, we discovered over half have never had treatment for their eating disorder, and one in three have never tried to get treatment in the first place.
“There’s a harmful misconception that eating disorders are female illnesses, which creates a great deal of shame and can entrench harmful behaviours for men who are unwell,” Quinn adds.
The Beat survey found that as many as seven out of 10 men with eating disorders said that before they became unwell, they’d never heard of or read about another man with an eating disorder. “In fact, many men said they previously didn’t believe men could develop eating disorders,” Quinn points out.
“We know increasing public awareness of men with eating disorders is hugely important, to help widen the understanding of who can be affected by these serious mental illnesses, enable men to recognise warning signs in themselves and others, and reach out for treatment.”
Many of the survey respondents admitted fearing how others would react to their eating disorder, being unaware they needed support, and not knowing what treatment was available.
“The sooner somebody accesses eating disorder treatment, the better their chances of making a full recovery, which is why it’s so concerning that men aren’t getting the treatment they need,” Quinn stresses.
“We’d like to reassure any men concerned about their health that having an eating disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. Please reach out to your GP as soon as possible – you deserve help and it is available.”
Every person experiences eating disorders differently, Quinn notes – however there are some behavioural, psychological and physical signs people can look out for. Here, Quinn talks us through eight eating disorder warning signs…
1. Mood changes“Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, which can often feel all encompassing, isolating and distressing, and changes in mood can be one of the first things others notice,” says Quinn. Friends and relatives may notice signs somebody is having difficulty sleeping, struggling to concentrate or seems more irritable than usual.
2. Saying they’ve eaten earlier/later
In an attempt to conceal how much they’re actually eating, someone with an eating disorder may be evasive about what/when they’ve eaten. “A person who is unwell with an eating disorder may also say they’ve eaten earlier or will eat later, or that they’ve eaten more than they have,” Quinn explains.
3. Taking a long time to eat meals/strict dieting/avoiding food
Behavioural warning signs can include strict dieting, avoiding food, anxiety about eating in front of people, or taking a very long time to eat meals, says Quinn. “This can signify that somebody has become distressed about their food intake and may be restricting what they eat.”
4. Food going missing/hiding food
If friends or relatives notice food inexplicably going missing or being hidden, it can indicate somebody’s struggling with binge eating.
“This is a distressing eating disorder behaviour, where those affected eat a large amount of food in a short period of time, and people often feel out of control of what they’re eating,” says Quinn. “This is common for those with bulimia or binge eating disorder.“
5. Going to the bathroom immediately after eatingPeople with bulimia may experience purging, where they compensate for what they’ve eaten by being sick, taking laxatives or over-exercising. “You may notice the person going to the bathroom immediately after eating,” notes Quinn.
6. Sensitivity to foodsSome people may be extremely sensitive to the smell or texture of certain foods, which may indicate they’re experiencing avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), which affects roughly 5% of those with eating disorders.
“People with ARFID may have a low interest in eating or struggle to eat enough, which can be linked to sensory-based avoidance or having a distressing experience with food,” explains Quinn.
7. Strict fitness routines
Somebody with an eating disorder may try to burn off the food they’ve eaten by over-exercising. Quinn warns: “You may notice they become fixated on an exercise routine, or feel distressed when exercising isn’t possible.”
8. Physical changesPhysical signs of eating disorders can include weight loss or gain,â¯tirednessâ¯and stomach pains – but someone with an eating disorder won’t necessarily be underweight, or a teenage girl.
“‘There’s a misconception that you must be underweight in order to have an eating disorder, but eating disorders affect people of all weights, sizes, ages, backgrounds and genders,” Quinn stresses.
“While eating disorders can have physical signs such as weight loss or gain, stomach pains or hair loss, it’s important to remember that eating disorders are mental illnesses. It’s crucial to look out for the psychological and behavioural symptoms, as these are much more common.”
More information about eating disorders is available on Beat’s website (beateatingdisorders.org.uk).