You may think anorexia nervosa is purely an illness that affects women. That simply isn't true. In fact, between 10-25% of those who suffer eating disorders are men. It usually starts when you're younger and in the UK, it affects around 1 in every 2000 teenage boys and young men. Anorexia is a serious mental condition.
Here, you can find out everything you wanted to know about anorexia nervosa (or at least we hope so!). You can click (or touch) each of the headings below to find out more about specific aspects of the condition.
We hope you find the information useful and if you do, please feel free to share it. If there’s anything you feel needs adding or looking at, let us know that too.
WHAT IS ANOREXIA NERVOSA? . . .
Anorexia nervosa is one of those eating disorders that means that you don't allow yourself to eat enough food. Everyone needs food and drink to fuel their bodies. By not allowing yourself to eat, that means you don't get the vitamins, minerals and vital nutrients you need to stay well.
Those living with anorexia try to keep their weight as low as possible. This can be achieved by either restricting the amount of food they do eat, making themselves vomit immediately after eating or over-exercising. When it does happen, eating can become a very distressing time.
Anorexia also distorts how they view themselves. Even when they become thin, even to dangerous levels, those with anorexia will still see themselves as being overweight.
WHAT CAUSES ANOREXIA? . . .
Anorexia can be caused by dieting which gradually gets out of control but, like other eating disorders, anorexia at its root, isn't normally to do with dieting. It often develops as an outlet for those with low self-esteem, an anxiety about their body shape (either by being too fat or a desire to be thin) or they may have experienced distressing events in their lives.
As with many other mental conditions, the cause isn't clear cut. The more likely solution is that it comes from a combination of factors. Some research has highlighted that those who develop anorexia share certain personality traits. These can include a tendency to be anxious or depressed, worrying about the future, being emotionally restrained or constantly striving to be 'perfect'.
Others believe certain environmental factors play a part. Because anorexia often starts during puberty, the mixture of hormonal changes and the feelings that puberty triggers, contribute to developing the condition for some people. Peer pressure that may arise at school, or stress that occurs during exams, could also add to it.
It's also hard to ignore the part the mass media plays on young minds during this period, portraying the image that 'thin is beautiful' or 'a six-pack is the ultimate body shape' on TV, in magazines and through many forms of advertising. Add to the fact that celebrity websites and magazines are often shaming any 'celebrities' that may have gained weight or don't conform to the 'normal' body shape, could be a factor.
OK, BUT DO MEN GET IT? . . .
As we mentioned in the intro (that you probably skipped over to get to the good stuff), men do get anorexia. The figures quoted are probably much lower than reality. As with many mental illnesses, men tend not to seek help for their mental health in the same numbers as women. They are also more likely to be misdiagnosed. Subsequently, they often feel uncomfortable in group sessions which, for the same reasons, will probably be predominately female.
Although eating disorders, including anorexia, affect a higher proportion of men who identify as gay or bisexual than women, the majority of men with any eating disorder are hetrosexual.
Some studies suggest that men with eating disorders like anorexia (but exclusively), have a higher mortality risk.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ANOREXIA? . . .
Whilst the signs of anorexia may seem obvious for others to see, that isn't always the case. The symptoms can be both physical and psychological. As we said, those with anorexia will be on a mission to weigh as little as possible. This can be observed in the following ways:
- Eating very little at meal times or missing meals completely. This can also include leaving the table earlier (to go vomit).
- Bad breath or tooth decay (caused by the acid vomiting regularly creates).
- Lying about what they have eaten and how much they actually weigh.
- Exercising excessively.
- Obsessing about the number of calories in food.
- Taking medication to suppress their appetite. These can be easily bought over the counter.
- Taking laxatives or diuretic mediation. These can also be bought over the counter.
Over time, these problems can result in more physically damaging symptoms including:
- Dry skin
- Hair loss (on the head).
- The growth of fine white hair on the body (known as lanugo)
- Brittle nails.
- Feeling cold and / or tired constantly.
Men with any eating disorder (including anorexia nervosa) have some additional challenges when it comes to diagnosis. Men with anorexia are more at risk from some physical ailments like osteopenia and osteoporisis and may require a testosterone supplement. It's important to talk to your Doctor about your physical health AND your mental health when it comes to anorexia.
WHAT TREATMENTS ARE AVAILABLE? . . .
For those with anorexia, most treatments will take place as an outpatient and last for around 6 months. If you are deemed to be at a high-risk of harming yourself, then you may be recommended for day or inpatient treatment.
Most people with anorexia will undergo some form of psychotherapy to help with the underlying causes of the condition. These can include cognitive analytical, cognitive behaviour or interpersonal therapy.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP SOMEONE WITH ANOREXIA? . . .
Whether the person you're looking out for is a man or a woman, the best and most obvious place to start to help them, is with knowledge, care and understanding. Everyone is different so what they need may differ from someone else. It's a very personal illness.
If you live with them, then simple things like eating together, planning menus and portion size will be beneficial. Try and avoid any last minute changes. Make sure the meals are balanced and, of course, respect any dietary needs they have. Go slowly at first, if they've been purging or not eating at all, then they'll need to adjust physically and mentally, so patience will be needed. Don't go full-on, 5-course-meals straight away.
Once the meal is finished, arrange to do something together (e.g. go for a walk, watch a movie). This will help them avoid any negative behaviours, like purging or over-exercising to compensate for the food.
If you live with anorexia, there may be some organisations on our Where To Turn pages that can help you. If not, and you know of one, please let us know and we'll look into it.