Art by Peau Porotesano
Most know that women worldwide battle eating disorders. Some may know that men can experience eating disorders as well, but since male eating disorders don’t seem as prevalent, the conversation surrounding them isn’t prevalent either.
But in contrast to common belief, approximately 10 million men in the U.S. suffer from eating disorders, according to nationaleatingdisorders.org.
Like women, men can have commonly known eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.
But there is another type of eating disorder that isn’t as well-known: muscle dysmorphia. It is an emerging disorder that primarily affects male bodybuilders, according to nationaleatingdisorders.org.
Approximately 10 percent of men in the gym may have muscle dysmorphia, according to Rob Willson, chair of the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation.
This disorder is characterized by a heightened fear that one is insufficiently muscular and a strict drive to enhance muscularity. Accompanying behaviors include excessive exercise to build muscle mass and reduce body fat, excessive regulation of dietary intake, like over-regulation of protein intake, and the use of appearance-enhancing substances like anabolic steroids, according to namedinc.org.
So what constitutes some of these behaviors, and what’s so bad about them?
Excessive exercise is characterized by intense anxiety if there’s no time to work out. The person may plan out their day prominently focusing on exercise, scheduling other activities around their goals. They may think they aren’t good enough, or not pushing themselves hard enough during exercise, and thus pressure themselves to increase the duration, intensity or difficulty of their routine, according to eatingdisorderhope.com.
But not many would think that regulating dietary intake with consumption of supplements like protein powders and bars is a bad thing.
One study decided to examine this idea by surveying men who consumed legal supplements like whey protein and creatine in the past 30 days, and work out for fitness or appearance-related reasons at least twice a week, according to a 2015 press release published by the American Psychological Association called “Excessive Workout Supplement Use: An Emerging Eating Disorder in Men.”
The researchers found that more than 40 percent of the men increased their supplement use over time, and 29 percent were concerned about their supplement use. Twenty-two percent replaced meals with dietary supplements not intended to be meal replacements. On the more extreme end, 8 percent of participants’ physicians told them to reduce or stop their supplement use due to actual or potential adverse health side effects, and 3 percent were hospitalized for kidney or liver problems related to supplement use.
The researchers concluded that the findings suggest that excessive use of legal appearance and performance-enhancing drugs like protein powders and bars and creatine may exhibit disordered eating that threatens the health of gym-active men.
So don’t forget that both men and women can experience poor body image, and hence can both resort to the extremes of eating disorders to achieve their ideal body goals. And don’t assume that gym-goers are healthy for what they’re doing. Of course, it’s good to be regularly active and care about your diet, but it’s not good to overexercise and abuse your body with supplements and steroids.
Don’t be afraid to speak up when you’re concerned because you recognize some of these disordered behaviors. Go to the Counseling Center if you’re concerned for yourself or for someone you know. Or, you could even call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. Both are great, confidential resources. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to seek help for yourself or others.
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