An Illness without Gender Bias: Eating Disorders Affect Men Too

eating disorder
Max Briles, a 26-year-old from Madison, passed away last October 2016 partly because of anorexia nervosa. His personal journal showed that he consumed at most 1,000 calories a day — less than half of what an adult male’s body requires.

His mother, Becky Briles, shared that she and her husband encouraged their child to visit an eating disorder treatment center. Max, however, refused because he thought he would be the only guy there.

This sheds light on the reality that eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder do not have a gender bias; they can affect men as well. Unfortunately, men are more reluctant than women are to discuss their condition because eating disorders are stereotypically female-centric.

An Eating Disorder Characterized as Female

Dr. Brad Smith, the medical director of Rogers Memorial Hospital’s eating disorder services, said eating disorders, which are stereotypically female conditions, affect males as well. In fact, data from the National Eating Disorders Association showed that around 25% of people with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are male. Moreover, around 36% of people with binge eating disorder are also male.

They, however, are less reluctant than women to come forward and have treatment because of the stigma that they will be — like Max thought — the only guy receiving it.

Admittedly, the number of men with eating disorders is relatively low, compared to the number of females with eating disorders. It might be because of the greater expectations for women to look a certain way and be a specific clothing size. This, however, does not invalidate the fact that men also worry about the way they look.

According to Dr. Smith, athletes (particularly boxers and wrestlers) and gay men are prone to worrying about their percentage of body fat — a worry which, unchecked, could lead to anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and similar conditions.

Nevertheless, the notion that eating disorders strictly affect just women is not true. Treatment centers understand this and offer the same treatment regardless of gender.

An Awareness of the Condition

Generally speaking, eating disorders are conditions of irregular eating habits and severe concern over one’s body weight or shape. It does not classify as a strictly female medical illness; neither is it the other way around.

They may develop for any person, commonly those with depression, substance abuse, or anxiety disorders, similar to Max’s case. For this reason, an awareness of the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder is important. It is also important to help those who are suffering from one realize, accept, and overcome their condition.

The parents of Max Briles found him dead in his home early in October 2016. While an autopsy showed that their 26-year-old son had heart damage typical of anorexia, the official cause of death is still pending. Even so, they chose to tell his story to raise awareness about eating disorders in men.

Max previously acknowledged his condition and even spoke about his frustration that eating disorders focus on women. As such, his parents decided to talk about what happened to him to let other men know that they are not alone in their struggle with anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders.