The Perception is Wrong: Anorexia is Not Just a Female Disease

By Paul Gaita 01/05/15

Because of its perception as a female disease, men are less likely to seek treatment for the deadly disorder of anorexia.

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Jon Sestak appears to have an ideal life: a college degree that has translated into a job with an insurance brokerage firm, a strong relationship with his family and a close connection to his faith. The success and stability of his life is a complete reversal from his tumultuous existence in high school, when anorexia nervosa nearly ended his life. As detailed in a feature on the Kansas City Star’s web site, Sestak began reducing his food intake and exercising intensely in his senior year of high school. By 2011, a regimen of extreme calorie reduction and obsessive exercise left the 5’6” young man with a body weight of 119 pounds. His doctor gave him a stark ultimatum: if he did not seek help for his disease, Sestak faced the all-too-real possibility of death.

With the aid of his family, he got the treatment he needed at recovery centers in Denver and Missouri. Today, Sestak’s weight has stabilized at 160 pounds, which he credits to counseling and a healthier food and exercise regimen. But he is keenly aware that his new, healthy state requires vigilant maintenance. “It’s a continual process of staying on top of it,” he said. “Making sure that you are in the right state of mind and not in that altered state of thinking. Making sure you exercise at a healthy level. All that stuff can snowball really fast.”

Though anorexia nervosa is regarded as a “women’s disease,” 10 to 15% of sufferers are male, though newer research suggests that the actual number is closer to than 30% or higher – a percentage greater than the number of men with prostate cancer in America. Because of the perception of anorexia as a female disease, men are less likely to seek treatment, which increases the odds of the condition becoming fatal. Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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