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Anorexia Often Undiagnosed in Men

The myth that eating disorders only affect women makes it hard for many men to get help.

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By Chrisanne Grise

02/26/13

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Of the approximate 30 million people in the US with eating disorders, about 10 million of them are men, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Buton the American Psychiatric Association’s website, the first symptom listed for anorexia is “menstrual periods cease.” Eating disorders are widely regarded as a problem that primarily impacts women and girls, and this misperception can make it difficult for many men and boys to be diagnosed and treated properly, ABC reports. "I can't get my period,” says Victor Avon, a recovered anorexic and spokesman for the National Eating Disorders Association. “Never had it before, and it'll be a miracle if I do get it. Right here in this book, this says I have a girls' disease and that I'm broken." Doctors often misdiagnose eating disorders in men, and many treatment facilities only accept women. Also, loved ones may not notice dramatic weight loss because mens’ bodies are less likely to become visibly emaciated—and even if they do, men are less likely to wear tight or revealing clothes, making it easier to hide weight loss.

Experts agree that the medical community needs to work on recognizing eating disorders as a problem that affects men as well as women. "This is not something that is rare," says psychiatrist Cynthia Bulik, who directs the University of North Carolina Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders. "I think we need to get past the misperception that this is something that's rare, because it does a huge disservice to boys and men." The American Psychiatric Association is expected to remove the menstruation symptom from its new DSM, to be published this spring. But gender norms may continue to influence how society views men who suffer from the illness. "I think for males it's that males don't talk about feeling dizzy," says Dr. Vicki Berkus, who directs Eating Disorder Programs for CRC Health Group. "That old 'pull yourself up by the bootstraps, real men don't have issues,' which is totally false." Therapist Jacquelyn Ekern, founder of the Eating Disorder Hope organization, says men are "less likely to come forward with it because some of them feel emasculated by it. However, they shouldn't. It is an equal opportunity disease, and there are so many factors that can contribute."

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