Since 2000, the number of men diagnosed with eating disorders has risen by nearly 30%.
Anorexia is an eating disorder characterised by low weight, fear of gaining weight, a strong desire to be thin, and food restriction. People with anorexia see themselves as being overweight. The familiar term used by suffers of this disorder is Ana. It is 10 times more common in women than men. According to HSE.ie: The causes of these illnesses in men can be different to those in women: in many cases, anorexia results from bodybuilding or exercise, However, like many women, younger men are becoming increasingly vulnerable to disliking their bodies, and are being bullied or teased as children for being overweight. Yes, they get anorexia too. It also affects one in every two thousand men. Some experts are concerned that the number of men with anorexia is increasing. Both men and boys suffer from Ana and it’s not only a problem with eating and having a lack of appetite, it’s more complex. Anorexia is a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors. As we can read in Jenny Langley’s book: “Anorexia is much more than just being about food. The sufferer is normally deeply unhappy about some aspect of his life and will have a very low self-esteem. Many sufferers feel that their illness gives them the attention from their loved ones that perhaps they felt they weren’t getting before.” Sexuality is also a big part of that. According to studies at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, more than 15 percent of homosexual individuals had at some time suffered or experienced symptoms of anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorder. Teenage boys are often unable to define ones real self and constantly are searching for answers. They are most likely to begin this journey between the ages of 14 and 25. Image pressure is the main reason why the individuals concerned follow this path, especially homosexuals.
“It is not clear why gay men have high rates of eating disorders,” says Dr. Meyer from Mailman School of Public Health “One theory is that the values and norms in the gay men’s community promote a body-centred focus and high expectations about physical appearance, so that, similar to what has been theorized about heterosexual women, they may feel pressure to maintain an ideal body image.”
The first recorded case and medical description of Anorexia Nervosa symptoms were noted on a young man in 1649 by an English physician Richard Morton. He described it as a “nervous consumption” and continued to record cases throughout his life.
Male anorexia is much harder to diagnose because there is a lack of symptoms. Individuals are concerned with their physical appearance and are not able to differentiate between looking healthy and anorexic. Parents and friends have a very important role to play in being observant and proactive, if any behavioural changes become apparent. GPs’ may not have sufficient knowledge of eating disorders and will most likely refer the individual to a paediatrician or child psychiatrist for further assessment.
“When I first went to a GP with heart palpitations and low body temperature, I was told to buy a good jumper and cut down on coffee, and was shown the door’’, says Dave, a 25-year-old stand up comedian, recovering from anorexia.
Many organisations such as ‘Body Whys’, which is the national eating disorder association of Ireland provide a variety of supports for people affected by eating disorders. ‘Men Get Eating Disorders Too’ is a national charity supporting men and families with by providing medical treatment for people suffering from Ana. Anorexics benefit hugely from the support of family and friends during their treatment process.
The rehabilitation journey is a very unique process to the individual concerned with no definite time frame. There are various methods to aid recovery from Ana and in Jenny Langley’s book she outlines her own personal experiences and treatment options having first handed experience when her 12 year old son was diagnosed with anorexia and availed of such treatment options as child psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses and dieticians.
Dave Chawner who describes himself as an Award winning stand-up comic using humor to cover eating disorders & mental health.
Dave is recovering from anorexia for almost 10 years now and first started suffering with the disease at the age of 17. I asked him to go through with me exactly how it all started and what he felt was the onset the disease for him. In Dave’s situation everything appeared to happen together. He was worried about his girlfriend, his friends and parents and used everything as a distraction. Weight loss and exercise became a priority and he started paying a lot attention of calories intake. His parents began to notice changes and began saying ‘OMG you are anorexic’. Although he was upfront and honest he insisted he didn’t want to hear comments from anyone. Unfortunately most people who suffer from Ana don’t actually see themselves as having the disease.
On asking the 25 year old comic from London about his recovery process I was quite surprised by his response. Notably he has a weekly session with his very patient therapist which just involves talking, no weigh in, no meal plan, just leaving everything in the suffers control. Some Ana patients who starve themselves and become severely malnourished which can be potentially fatal for the individual concerned are offered a treatment method involving re-feeding. I enquired if he had ever been on this program and thankfully not, as he weight had never fallen
drastically low enough to warrant such a treatment
People trying to recover from anorexia strive hard to lead a normal life. Dave’s passion for stand- up comedy certainly assists him on his journey to recovery.
Finally in life we all need interests and hobbies to sustain and keep us well and to help with the stresses and strains of everyday life.
Finally, it may be hard to believe that up to 200,000 Irish people are possibly affected by eating disorders and it is vitally important that we work together to gain the knowledge to be able to provide the best support necessary to all suffers of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder in Ireland.
If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this article please contact