Experts: More men are dealing with eating disorders than people realize

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Eating disorders can be deadly, and experts say some men are suffering in silence.

Some believe the number of those men who are impacted by eating disorders are grossly underestimated.

Andrew Walen said he struggled with a serious eating disorder for 20 years. Walen said he is the founder and CEO of The Body Image Therapy Center and the president of the National Association for Males with Eating Disorders.

His website states he is a psychotherapist who specializes in eating disorders, body image, anxiety and depression, self-harm and self-esteem.

“If I were a woman it [the eating disorder] would’ve been picked up. It would’ve been assessed and treated much earlier,” said

Andrew Walen

Walen.

He said he suffered with anorexia in high school and dealt with compulsive exercising in his 20s.

“When my body broke down on me, I went to binge eating to deal with my depression and anxiety,” said Walen, “all the while feeling horrible about myself, my body and my value.”

He said men are underdiagnosed, misdiagnosed and even dismissed as having a body image or eating disorder issue in many cases.

“There is still this attitude that boys don’t cry, boys don’t have emotions, boys need to toughen up, boys need to be competitive,” said Walen. “They are afraid of being perceived as feminine.”

Below is information from the National Eating Disorder Association:

Despite the stereotype that eating disorders only occur in women, about one in three people struggling with an eating disorder is male, and sub-clinical eating disordered behaviors (including binge eating, purging, laxative abuse, and fasting for weight loss) are nearly as common among men as they are among women.

In the United States alone, eating disorders will affect 10 million males at some point in their lives. But due in large part to cultural bias, they are much less likely to seek treatment for their eating disorder. The good news is that once a man finds help, they show similar responses to treatment as women. Several factors lead to men and boys being under- and undiagnosed for an eating disorder. Men can face a double stigma, for having a disorder characterized as feminine or gay and for seeking psychological help. Additionally, assessment tests with language geared to women and girls have led to misconceptions about the nature of disordered eating in men.

Walen said women with eating disorders want to be thinner, but for many men, they want to have bigger muscles or be leaner.

Recently, former catcher for the Seattle Mariners Mike Marjama came out publicly to speak about his severe eating disorder that he has suffered from since he was 12 years old.

“Did I look normal? Sure, but the things that were going on in my head were not normal,” said Marjama.

“The more we can have guys stand up and say, 'I struggled' and there’s recovery possible and to be no less of a man to say so, that means that we save more lives,” said Walen.

Walen and others are now trying to raise awareness about this issue.

“No one is immune to this. This is an anxiety-based disorder that could happen to anyone,” said Walen.

If you or someone you know needs help, click here for more information from the NEDA.