You will have seen documentaries about young girls suffering from anorexia, or recovery stories in magazines about women who have overcome bulimia, but have you ever seen anything in the media about men and eating disorders? I know I haven't. That is, until recently, when athlete Joey Julius (Penn State Nittany Lions Kicker) wrote an honest status on Facebook explaining why he had been absent from recent events. Stating "I was admitted into the McCallum place on may 9th for eating disorders. Due to my increase in not only weight but also depression and anxiety my team's physicians started to notice not only a change in my overall happiness but also my performance as a normal human being". Continuing "I learned that for the last 11 years of my life I have suffered through a disorder known as binge eating disorder".
Andrew Walen, the founder of The Body Image Therapy has explained that "most men are so ashamed and feel this is a feminine disease, or a gay man's disease, or a weak person's disease, and they will not step forward and get treatment. We need to normalise it". Walen is right, the more open and less critical people are over eating disorders amongst men the more likely it is that they will seek help. However, his inference that being feminine, gay or weak is not normal is slightly worrying- and a further product of the society we live in, which shames anyone who isn't a heterosexual, white, male.
The more men that speak up about their experiences the better, because just like most other illnesses, they are not gendered in who they affect. For example, the National Eating Disorders Association has found that 40% of those who suffer from Binge Eating Disorder are male.
The current culture we live in breeds insecurity, for women the images of unobtainable and photoshopped bodies that plague the media have an obvious and direct impact on body image. For men, this pressure may be lesser but it is still significant. Bodybuilders, gym-obsessed personal trainers, male models and other extreme body aesthetics are being put on a peddle-stool more and more.
5 years ago, before Instagram and other social media channels became so influential in all of our daily lives, a body ideal for men was less obvious. Yes 6 packs donned the bodies of male models in magazines, but nowadays we see thousands of Instagram influencers with sculpted 'perfect' bodies on a daily basis. The more we see these bodies, the more they become the ideal, and the more people fixate over achieving such a look. Their should be no ideal, because all of our bodies are valid and there is no such thing as perfect, but unfortunately we don't live in a world where this message is promoted or accepted.
So what can we all do to help? We can start by talking. By starting a conversation and creating a safe space for us to discuss these matters frankly. If you are or think you may be suffering from an eating disorder there are trained professionals who will listen and help, for example B-eat and Eating Disorder Support.
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