Eating Disorders in Males in Body

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Young Scot spoke with Paul Donald, 24, the Director of Men and Boys Eating and Exercise Disorders Service (MBEEDS), about eating disorders in males.

When we think of eating disorders, we often think of girls. However, eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of whether you’re male or female, and between 1 in 10 males in the UK have an eating disorder.

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What inspired you to set up MBEEDS?

Myself and Dave Pusledzki, set up MBEEDS in July 2013 because we felt there was a lack of support available in Scotland for males with eating disorders. MBEEDS’ mission is to try and raise awareness and provide information and support.

Do you have personal experience of an eating disorder?

At high school I was quite large and was bullied a lot. Then when I went to college, I came across a website which I was told would help me lose weight. I ended up getting engrossed in online chats with people who encouraged me to lose weight; I thought they were my friends but I can see now that the behaviours they encouraged were harmful. I eventually collapsed in October 2010 and went to the hospital where I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.

How did you feel when you were diagnosed with anorexia?

"From a young age we’re exposed to images such as Action Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Marvel characters, and are led to believe that men are supposed to look like these big superheroes."

After I was diagnosed, I thought ‘I’m a man, I can’t have an eating disorder.’ Then, I Googled it and I found the charity Men Get Eating Disorders Too and I thought, ‘well, there’s a service that exists, obviously guys do get it as well.’ I looked at their website and it was really helpful, and then I contacted their Director, Sam, who gave me a lot of helpful tips on how to cope. 

Do you feel that there is lack of understanding about eating disorders in males?

I was given an appointment with a general psychiatrist but I never actually got treatment for an eating disorder, and I feel that this was due to a lack of understanding about eating disorders in males. Health resources tend to be very female orientated, and that is a barrier which stops males coming forward and getting support. It doesn’t matter what age, background, gender, race, sexuality, you are – you can suffer from an eating disorder.

What do you think causes eating disorders in males?

The causes of eating disorders in men are the same as with females. Each case is their own case, we can’t generalise, but we’ve noticed that exercise and body confidence is a common factor with male eating disorders. Perfectionist behaviours and OCD tendencies also tend to play a large role in the development of eating disorders.

How do you think males are affected by body confidence issues?

Guys have the same body image issues as girls, especially through the pubescent ages. From a young age we’re exposed to images such as action man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Marvel characters, and are led to believe that men are supposed to look like these big superheroes.

Do eating disorders in males present themselves differently from eating disorders in females?

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We often find that males fit the exercise disorder category, which is harder to diagnose because there is not as many health resources about exercise disorders, and even clinicians themselves aren’t as well informed about the condition. My experience is it’s the exercise side of things that males tend to have a problem with, especially ‘bigorexia’, which is a disorder where people try to bulk up and don’t think they’re big enough - I call it the reverse of anorexia nervosa.

There is actually a storyline in Waterloo Road at the moment, which shows the character Dale Jackson from Waterloo Road over-exercising through cycling. He’s still eating but he’s malnourished because he’s burning off too many calories through exercise, so his body isn’t getting a high enough calorie intake.

What advice would you give to a young male currently dealing with an eating disorder?

I would say, research more information online, and contact services such as MBEEDS and Men Get Eating Disorders Too, for support. I’d seek advice from your GP as well, even if they tell you that that you’re fine, if you feel you have an issue with eating or exercise then keep being persistent with them and ask them to refer you to a specialist.

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