Dealing with the Stigmas and Misunderstandings
Stereotypes within the realm of mental health can be difficult to overcome. For whatever reason, people are more inclined to associate certain illnesses with one gender and not the others. When they think of a specific illness, they automatically conjure up an image of just one gender, instead of any gender. One such skewed illness is an eating disorder. Eating disorders are stereotyped to be focused on females. Many examples and portrayals of eating disorders in the media is of a woman who is struggling with it. This has created an unhealthy stigma around eating disorders and discourages men or boys from seeking the help they need, as these afflictions are viewed as feminine and “unmanly”.
About one in three people struggling with an eating disorder is male, with 10 millions males being affected by eating disorders at some point in their life. Eating disorders in men are nearly as common as they are in females, showing that there really is not a discrepancy there, as much as the narrative in our culture may say otherwise. But because of the stereotypes, stigmas, and the recovery language being geared towards females, there is both a lack of men seeking help and also a lack of understanding how an eating disorder can affect a male.
Luckily, once a male seeks help and undergoes the process of recovery, they show similar results to women, showing that they can be helped in their struggle. They just need to breach that stigma barrier.
A lot of what males struggle with in terms of eating disorders has to do with their body image. The sexualization and depiction of an “ideal male body” in media, leads men to strive for a muscular body. This is what constitutes the “ideal male body”: lean, muscular, and in shape. This can lead to men becoming obsessed with obtaining this body. They may spend hours and hours at the gym, spending large amounts of money supplements, abnormal eating patterns, and turning to steroids. It becomes their life and they will stop at nothing to gain that body they think they need to have. It’s not an uncommon mindset, as 25% of normal weight males view themselves as underweight, while 90% of men work out with the goal of bulking up in mind. Soon, feelings of inadequacy begin to surface, and they may develop body dysmorphic disorder or muscle dysmorphia. This means that no matter what they do or try, they continually see themselves as worse than what they want. For everything they may do, they will always feel like they have a lot more work to do.
It’s incredibly damaging for a young man to deal with. They grow up with a sense of not being good enough; they feel like they won’t be accepted or loved unless they look a certain way. Self-hatred and loathing becomes a reality, which extends beyond just their physical looks. It can start to affect their mental and emotional state as well. Soon they find themselves hating the people they are, not just how they look. They are in a constant state of bullying and belittling themselves so that they will stop at nothing to be what they think they should be, healthy or not. Which is where the eating disorders come from. They go to extreme measures to “improve” themselves just to feel worthy of love or acceptance. And worst of all, they don’t think anything of it because “men don’t have eating disorders”. To them it’s normal, and that is dangerous.
Treatment, in general, is not a generic process; it differs for everyone depending on their biology, psychology, and other factors. It’s the same as treating any mental illness. You can’t approach every single case as the same, as every single person is different from the last. The same goes for treating a male versus a female. Creating a recovery process for a male should be geared towards their gender and taking that into consideration. More so, early intervention is critical when diagnosing, and helping, a male struggling with an eating disorder; mortality rates among men is higher than it is for females, again, attributed to our culture’s lack of knowledge and understanding. This adds to a sense of not belonging for men and boys when in a recovery process, as they may feel that they are the lone male in a predominantly female world. Gearing the process with their gender in mind can help ease them out of this mindset, and help them feel like it’s okay for them to be there.
Eating disorders amongst males is something that needs to be normalized and the stigmas need to be changed. Boys and men are all susceptible to developing these disorders, and deserve to be treated equally in their pursuit of recovery. They need to be made to feel like they are accepted in their struggles, and we need to do our best to give them the love they need.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with eating disorder or mental illness, do not hesitate to contact the team here at TrueRecovery.com. Our program, founded in 2014, is built around finding what’s best for you to overcome your addiction. Our facility is located in Newport Beach, California, with our supportive housing located close to our campus in Costa Mesa. Take advantage of the local beaches, nature preserves, and Orange County community while we fight for you. Contact us at (866) 399-6528 and [email protected]