Learn about eating disorders in men
Three men who've had an eating disorder share their thoughts.
Yes. It is not the case that only women get eating disorders. Anyone can go through the kinds of stresses and worries that might lead to them developing an eating disorder – things like work or academic stress, bereavement, difficulties in an important relationship, struggles with body image etc. are not unique to one gender.
Eating disorders are not a sign of weakness or the fault of the person suffering, and anyone who is ill deserves support. The good news is that you can get treatment for an eating disorder, and full recovery is possible.
Studies suggest that up to a quarter of sufferers are male. But the stigma around eating disorders, and around male sufferers, means that we can’t say for certain – many men may go undiagnosed. What is certain is that if you’re male and worried about yourself, you’re not alone. There are many men who share your experience.
You may have seen stories in the media that suggest more men are developing eating disorders. This is not necessarily the case. Some services have said that they are admitting more men, but this may mean that more men are seeking help, or more men are recognised as having eating disorders, rather than that more men are developing the illness.
Don’t ignore it. Talk to somebody about it. Knowing something was wrong but feeling I had to keep it hidden was the most tiring bit of being ill when I was at my worst. Having an eating disorder is really tiring; having to hide it as well was awful.Ian, 37
I think you need to speak up, whether it’s your best mate or your [partner], or somebody at work… just talk to them, talk about how you’re feeling, because I think the more people that get involved with your feelings and how you feel at the moment, then… the bigger the support system you have to help you.Ben, 23
If you’re worried about yourself, you can find out more about what to do here.
Go to the person you’re closest to and who you feel most comfortable talking to, whether that’s, again, your best mate, your [partner], your [parents] – that person you can go to who you can speak about anything, that’s the person to go to first. If they don’t know what to do themselves… then at least that person can then think “Right, I’m going to take you to the doctor” or “Right, let’s go and get you some help…” It might just be a case of them putting an arm around your shoulder and saying “You’re not on your own”, and that might give you the strength to think “I’m not on my own, so I’m going to get the help I need.Ben
Make sure it’s someone that you trust… Make sure it’s not going to become a topic of gossip, and do it early. Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today. I know it’s a very cliché and a very easy thing to say, but it needs to be done; it needs to be done early. The sooner you catch something the better.Aiden, 22
Practice. If you don’t think you can think of the words or you’re unsure of getting them out right… I practiced, before I went to my GP, saying what I was going to tell him, and then talking to my GP first and then the eating disorder specialist at the mental health trust meant that by the time I started talking to people I really cared about, I knew what I was going to say, and I could say it and not worry about not being clear or not getting across what I wanted to.Ian
No matter who you feel most comfortable talking to first, find out more about having conversations with people about your concerns.
… As a man and certainly when I was growing up I was taught never to show vulnerability, never to admit what I thought was weakness, so it took me years to get up the courage to do it, but to be honest it is one of the best things I ever did, because I’d got to the point where not telling people and living the way I was living was much worse than telling people and I wish I’d been braver sooner. And the other thing I’d say is people surprised me. It was mostly relief because I was giving them permission to talk about what was going on with me and lots of people were worried about me but hadn’t known it was okay to talk about it, and I’ve never felt so loved when people didn’t reject me.Ian
Obviously it’s natural to be concerned… All my school found out I’d got an eating disorder when I went into hospital because obviously they wondered where I’d gone… and at first I thought, “I can’t go to school now… they’re going to judge me.” And then after a few times I went in, I thought, “No, they don’t judge me.” People were curious as to where I’d been, and they wanted to ask me how things were going… If they do react badly, then sit there with them and say, “Listen, it’s not my fault”, because it’s not your fault… I used to think, “Oh, it’s my fault because I made the decision to go on a diet” – nobody asks to get an eating disorder; nobody asks to get unwell.Ben
Completely dispel any anxiety that you’re getting towards what people might think of you, whether it’s your family, your friends, or someone on the other side of the world posting on your Facebook. Societal perceptions of normality have no impact on your recovery whatsoever; the only person and the only person’s opinion that’s going to matter is yours.Aiden
If you’re worried about how people will react, you might want to start by getting in touch with our Helpline team – you can phone, email, or use our one-to-one webchat.
Speak about it early. Make sure you’re close enough to tell them, and you’re close enough to bring that conversation up. If you’re not then maybe contact your friend’s family, and also if you’re worried about how to bring it up, organisations such as Beat… have information leaflets and handouts and stuff… And be very conscious of the fact that if they are confrontational and aggressive towards you… they’re going to be very secretive and they’re going to feel a sense of failure, that they’ve let their guard down and allowed someone to realise what’s going on. So if they are ever confrontational towards you, it’s not on purpose.Aiden
Saying something is probably better than nothing. When I was really ill and there was this huge conspiracy of silence around me because people were scared to talk to me about it, I took the fact that nobody was talking about it as a sign that nobody cared or I wasn’t ill enough, so it sort of drove me to almost make myself more ill so people would notice, but they had noticed, they just didn’t know how to talk about it… The main thing I think when people are trying to talk to me is actually that I trust that they care about me and they’re coming from a good place and if you love and care about the person you’re worrying about then that’s going to come through.Ian
Don’t be scared of approaching that person… offer your support to them and say “Listen, I’m here for you, I’m going to help you as much as I can, but you need to talk to me about what you’re going through so that I know how you feel so then I can help you.” Offer to go to appointments with them, always invite them out to places – don’t let them feel isolated… The more they feel supported and the more friends they’ve got around them… the more power they’ve got to overcome their eating disorder… Even if they don’t want to talk about it, just give them that little pointer and say, “Listen, if you do want to talk about it, you know where I am” … Sometimes it takes the family and friends to get the help to that person rather than the person going and getting the help.Ben
Find out more about how to talk to someone you’re worried about.
Speak, and speak early. Make sure someone knows that you’ve got these concerns. Don’t sweep them under the carpet and expect them to get better. If you dislocated your elbow or broke your forearm, you wouldn’t wait for it to get better. You’d go and make sure that you had the best possible chance of making a full recovery – do that with your mental health as well.