It’s time to talk about male eating disorders

two weights and toned men

Most can identify disordered eating patterns in women, but we don’t often talk about what those patterns might look like in men. That needs to change.

Male eating disorders are a reality that, because of stigmatization and lack of awareness, often fall under the radar. When we think of eating disorders, we think of people trying to lose weight to the extreme. But this isn’t always the case. For boys and men especially, eating disorders manifest in overexercising and a desire to bulk up.

Western society often expects men, just like women, to meet impossible beauty standards—most often in the form of unrealistic, washboard abs.

It’s easy to see where this social expectation comes from. Marvel movies feature ripped, masculine superheroes. Teen shows like Riverdale cast actors in their twenties to play 16-year-olds. Hollywood action movies promote buff looking male characters.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to eat healthily or get in shape. But Hollywood’s obsession with muscular men is not just unrealistic—it’s toxic.

For starters, everyone’s bodies are different. Genetically, some people are just predisposed to a more muscular figure. In most cases though, achieving the bodies of onscreen male heroes is impossible to do in a healthy manner—unless, of course, you have the time and means for a personal trainer and dietitian.

Actors have that. The average Joe often doesn’t.

Athletics too contribute to this normalization of male eating disorders. Protein shakes, frequent gym runs, and “cutting season” are common, even encouraged, for young athletes looking to hit their target weight.

We need to expand our language when it comes to eating disorders. Disordered eating often falls under the guise of “bulking up” and getting toned, making it difficult to identify, especially given the lack of discourse.

Talking about the ways eating disorders can manifest in men will make it easier for men to see the disorder in themselves, but it can also help destigmatize them. Having an eating disorder doesn’t make you weak or any less masculine. Recognizing that as a society is the first step to encouraging people to get help when they need it.

Moving away from the expectation of men having Hollywood-level abs is also important, especially for Black and Asian men who are often held to a higher standard of white male beauty that isn’t always realistic. Too often, men of colour must work harder on their appearance to “make it” in Hollywood.

No one, regardless of their gender, should feel ashamed of their eating disorder. We can’t be afraid to have conversations about negative body image and its consequences, and help people to seek help when they need it—especially men, who have been too long ignored in this conversation.

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