Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention What to Know About Anorexia in Men By Cynthia Vinney Cynthia Vinney Cynthia Vinney, PhD is an expert in media psychology and a published scholar whose work has been published in peer-reviewed psychology journals. Learn about our editorial process Updated on August 11, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS Medically reviewed by Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Izusek / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents How Common Is Anorexia in Men? Does Anorexia in Men Differ From Anorexia in Women? Risk Factors Symptoms Treatment Anorexia and other eating disorders are often associated with women and girls; however, men and boys suffer from eating disorders too, and the consequences can be severe. In fact, because there is a stigma that men don’t suffer from anorexia, they are less likely to seek treatment, and when they do, they often go undiagnosed and untreated. This article will give an overview of the statistics about anorexia in men, discuss the differences in how anorexia presents itself in both men and women, and discuss potential causes, symptoms, and treatment for men and boys with anorexia. How Common Is Anorexia in Men? For a majority of the 20th Century, it was believed that eating disorders didn’t affect men, and since diagnostic criteria for eating disorders often included menstruation issues like missing periods, (something people without uteruses can't experience), men were rarely considered in eating disorders research and treatment. However, by the 1990s, it was thought that 1 in 10 men had an eating disorder. Today, that number has risen substantially, as approximately 10 million American men deal with an eating disorder in their lifetime. Research involving general population surveys indicates that disordered eating, including behaviors associated with anorexia such as extreme dieting, is increasing faster in men than in women. It’s estimated that between 0.1% and 0.3% of all men will develop anorexia and that 25% of people with anorexia are men. Does Anorexia in Men Differ From Anorexia in Women? The criteria for anorexia in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) isn’t gender specific. It specifies that to be diagnosed with the condition, people must display the following symptoms: Restricting the number of calories consumed relative to one’s requirements, leading to low body weightFeeling extreme fear about the possibility of gaining weightSeeing body weight as central to one’s assessment of themselves What Are the Differences? Yet, while men and women must both meet these criteria to be diagnosed for anorexia, there are some differences in the results each is trying to achieve. Men and Women Aim for Different Outcomes For instance, women with anorexia want to be thin while men are hoping to be lean and muscular. Perhaps, as a result, men with anorexia are more likely to fast and exercise excessively while women are more likely to abuse laxatives and force themselves to vomit. Meanwhile, research has repeatedly shown that men are more likely to have been overweight before the onset of anorexia and have higher body mass indexes (BMI) over the course of the disorder than women. Furthermore, severe anorexia tends to occur at a later age in men than in women, and while men weren’t more likely to die from the condition than women, those who did were more likely to die sooner after being hospitalized. What Risk Factors Can Lead to Anorexia in Men? There isn’t a definitive list of causes for anorexia, but there are a number of biological, psychological, and sociocultural risk factors that may leave some men more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder. Risk factors include: Body dissatisfaction External or internal pressure to achieve the “ideal body” as prescribed by media and pop culture A past history of mild to moderate obesity Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder Low self-esteem or perfectionism Substance-use disorder, including the use of appetite suppressants, steroids, or illegal drugs Engaging in competitive sports, activities, or occupations that emphasize body weight, including modeling, athletic performance, or dancing A history of being bullied in childhood A history of sexual abuse Some studies have found that gay men may be more predisposed to developing anorexia due to greater pressure to attain a body that’s attractive to other men, however many researchers have disputed this claim. According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), although many gay and bisexual men have eating disorders, most men with eating disorders are heterosexual. What Are the Symptoms of Anorexia in Men? Even if a man or boy has an eating disorder, it may be difficult to detect because parents and loved ones are less likely to think of that as a possible explanation for the signs and symptoms they see, and men themselves can be especially reluctant to admit they have an issue. Moreover, some men may not show any obvious outward symptoms. In general, many symptoms of anorexia are not gender-specific, however, here are some that are especially prevalent in men: Preoccupation with body shape and musclesSudden weight loss or gain, or fluctuating weightInability to maintain a normal body weight based on age and heightChange in physical appearance, particularly an increase in musclesLowered testosteroneExercising even when hurt or sickDistress over missed workoutsFrequent trips to the bathroom during or soon after eatingBeing secretive about eating habitsFollowing strict patterns around eatingSocial withdrawalTrying to hide one’s body by wearing layers of clothing Understanding Male Eating Disorders Treatment for Men With Anorexia Men tend to score lower on measures of eating disorder symptoms because many of these measures were developed specifically for use with women. Therefore, men are often misdiagnosed, which delays the time it takes to get proper treatment and resulting in more severe illness by the time a man is treated. Early Treatment Is Best Delays in getting treatment are problematic because the earlier an individual gets into treatment, the better their chances of recovery. Yet, while clinicians concur there's a need to adapt current approaches to treating anorexia to men, there isn’t strong agreement about what these adaptations should be. As a result, clinicians lack specific guidelines for treating men with anorexia. That said, treatment for men with anorexia is possible and can be successful. Those seeking treatment should look for doctors, clinicians, and treatment centers that take a gender-sensitive approach and, if possible, have all-male treatment groups, which are more likely to allow men to feel safe enough to open up about their struggles. In particular, treatment should focus on issues specific to men including sexual abuse, body image, exercise abuse, pressure from media depictions, and their experiences of depression and low self-esteem. Where Do Men Fit Into the Body Positivity Movement? 15 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Strother E, Lemberg R, Stanford SC, Turberville D. Eating Disorders in Men: Underdiagnosed, Undertreated, and Misunderstood. Eat Disord. 2012;20(5):346-355. doi:10.1080/10640266.2012.715512 Lavender JM, Brown TA, Murray SB. Men, Muscles, and Eating Disorders: an Overview of Traditional and Muscularity-Oriented Disordered Eating. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2017;19(6). doi:10.1007/s11920-017-0787-5 Eating Disorders in Men & Boys. National Eating Disorders Association. 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BMJ Open. 2018;8(8). doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-021934 By Cynthia Vinney Cynthia Vinney, PhD is an expert in media psychology and a published scholar whose work has been published in peer-reviewed psychology journals. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Eating Disorders Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.