Learn about eating disorders in men
Three men who've had an eating disorder share their thoughts.
Yes, eating disorders don’t discriminate. Anyone can have one, no matter what their age, gender, ethnicity, background, or social class.
There are lots of potential signs and symptoms of an eating disorder, and people of all genders can experience these. Evidence has shown the below may be more common in men with eating disorders:
It can be unhelpful to point to differences between ‘male’ and ‘female’ symptoms, though, as this adds to gender stereotyping. Not all men and boys with an eating disorder will feel driven to become more muscular. Everyone who experiences an eating disorder experiences it in a way that is unique to them.
Everyone deserves treatment for their eating disorder, and a full recovery is possible.
“As an adult male I did not think at my stage in life I would be struck down with this disorder. I did not want to contact anyone for help because I was embarrassed and thought no one would take me seriously.”
Unfortunately, there hasn't been a lot of research on eating disorders in men. But an estimate based on the existing research suggests around 1 in 4 (25%) (Sweeting et. Al. (2015)) of those with an eating disorder are male. Men face increased stigma when it comes to eating disorders, and the current research isn’t representative enough, focusing mainly on white cisgender men. So the true number might be much higher.
Eating disorders are also heavily gendered and often associated with ‘femininity’. This means men may be less likely to view themselves as someone with an eating disorder, and those around them, including healthcare professionals, may be less likely to suspect one.
“I feel like eating disorders are often spoken about in relation to women. I didn’t expect that this would happen to me.”
“When I initially developed an eating disorder, I didn't know I had one. I didn't exactly fit the common stereotype, and even if I did, I was in complete denial…”
We’d always recommend getting in touch with your GP, who will be able to support you. You can find out more about this here.
Beat can also support you, including through our new online support group for men who have an eating disorder or are worried about themselves. You can find more information here.
It can be really hard to tell someone that you have an eating disorder. Some men who've been where you are have shared their suggestions below:
“You are battling something that is much bigger than you. You will not succeed in beating this illness on your own. I can't pretend like it is easy to talk to friends and family about this, as it took me years to do so. My advice is to pick the right people and do this one at a time. I first spoke to the friend I feel I am closest to and has similar views as me."
"As hard as it appears, seek help and say that you need support. You think that it will make you look less strong, but in fact it actually shows strength beyond measure to reach out. I wish I had listened and spoke out earlier."
"Don't be afraid to speak to someone. A friend, a family member or your GP. If no one talks about it how can people know there's an issue or raise awareness. No one knew about me and I didn't tell anyone, I suffered for years on my own suppressing it because no one knew."
"The biggest judge for what you will say is yourself, and that shame will surround you for years, until you talk about it. Don't let the shame win, because there's nothing to be ashamed of. But also, be prepared for a fight, because people might not understand what you're saying. Don't let anyone persuade you it isn't serious or important. Don't let anyone tell you you're lazy, or that you've brought it on yourself."
Find out more about having conversations with people about your concerns.
It's understandable to feel anxious about this. We've asked some men who've had an eating disorder themselves to share their thoughts below:
"If you are close to someone then it does not matter if they don't understand the illness, or how to help. They will listen, they care about you, it does not affect your relationship one bit if you have an eating disorder. You will still go to the pub, or football, or play games, or anything that you did before. But you will be much happier for it."
"Try to realise that you have a right to access treatment and understand that it is NOT a weakness. It takes strength and courage to come forward and to ask for help. Just do it!"
"...there's so much more awareness of men's mental health now that no one should feel embarrassed or ashamed if they're struggling in any way. We need to break the toxic masculinity and look out for one another."
"It's not embarrassing or weak to seek help. It's no different than going to the doctor for a physical condition."
"You are not overreacting, or pretending – you are facing real, valid struggles, and you are not any less deserving of help, support and compassion simply for being a man… You are worthy of accessing treatment, and you are worthy of recovery."
"You are worth more than you think; talk to others and try to be kind to yourself. You deserve help – that'll be the starting point."
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.
If you're worried about someone you know, you may be unsure about how to bring it up with them. Some men who've had eating disorders themselves have given these suggestions:
Raise concerns in a non-judgmental way. Offer help and support. I think if someone were to do this for me, I might be able to get the help I think I need."
"Eating disorders thrive in isolation, so don't let them face this alone. Be there for them because your support really makes all the difference. I don't know if I'd have recovered as well as I did without the love from those around me."
"Listen to them, don't talk at them."
"Educate yourself on eating disorders and disordered eating. There are signs he may not notice but you will just by educating yourself and this equip you to support him when he is ready to seek it."
"Support them, don’t be angry with them it’s not their fault. they need family to support and love them that’s what will help them overcome their eating disorder."
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.