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Men With Eating Disorders Often Ignore Symptoms

A recent study by the University of Oxford found that most undiagnosed men were unaware of eating disorder symptoms.

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By John Lavitt

05/19/14

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A new British study has uncovered the reasons why men with eating disorders often ignore the symptoms and prove resistant to getting treatment.

The widely held belief has been that only women experience eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Such a societal misconception can delay men with these conditions from getting treatment. In the study written by a team led by Ulla Raisanen at the University of Oxford, the researchers report that, "Men with eating disorders are underdiagnosed, undertreated and under-researched."

In the study, the researchers interviewed 29 women and 10 men who had been previously diagnosed with an eating disorder. Ranging in age from 16 to 25, the men said it took them a long time to realize that they even had the symptoms of an eating disorder. The warning signs of an eating disorder include obsessive calorie counting, exercise and weighing, going days without eating, and the combination of binging and purging.

Since the men believed that only women had eating disorders, it proved difficult for them to conceive that such a thing was happening to them. Prior to being diagnosed, none were aware of the symptoms of an eating disorder. In conjunction with this lack of knowledge, their family, friends and work colleagues were slow to pick-up on the symptoms, even when they thought something was amiss.

Most of the men in the study only reached out for help after they suffered a serious health crisis or required emergency medical treatment. Even after such an incident, the men remained slow to seek help because they didn't know where to go. They also feared they would not be taken seriously by medical professionals. In light of the gross lack of available male-oriented resources about eating disorders, the men in the study often felt at a complete loss.

According to the study published April 8 in the online journal BMJ Open, a patient in the study actually said a male doctor told him "to man up.” The cultural construction of eating disorders as exclusively female has proven to be a huge barrier for men. If this problem is going to be addressed effectively in the future, primary care professionals need to challenge such erroneous perceptions.

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