November 14, 2013

Eating disorders

How men and women differ in terms of eating disorders

Generally speaking, eating disorders in men look a lot like eating disorders in women. The symptom pictures are quite similar; for example, fear of fat, distorted body image, a narrowing of life focus to body/weight goals, and so on are present in both genders. So are the underlying psychological dynamics fueling the disorder — for example, worth that is based on weight and shape, perfectionism, obsessive-compulsive features, and so forth.

Men and women part ways when it comes to the body changes they’re aiming at and what these changes mean to them. Whereas women focus on becoming thin, men focus on becoming buff. The perfect male body has zero fat and its V-shaped, bigger-is-better muscular distribution is marked by huge biceps and “six-pack” abs. Women fear fat because it makes them unattractive. Men fear fat because it makes them appear flabby and weak.

Half of men who are dissatisfied with their bodies want to lose weight while the other half want to gain. What these two camps have in common is that, for the most part, both are aiming at the bulked-up cultural ideal. Steroid use to help achieve this muscular perfection is an essentially male addition to the scary things people can do when driven by eating-disordered thinking.

Other differences exist in the ways that men and women experience each of the three major eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, and BED. These differences (by disorder) include

Anorexia: In men, starvation lowers levels of testosterone. This appears to have the immediate effect of killing libido. In some men, it may have lasting effects on their fertility even when their weight is restored.

Bulimia: Men are less likely to purge and more likely to rely on compensatory behavior, like cutting calories or compulsive exercising.

BED: Men who binge are generally less upset about their behavior than women who binge. Women feel shame in the act of bingeing, while men save their shameful feelings for the effect bingeing has on their bodies; males eat without shame, yet are embarrassed by the fat that results.