Men suffer from eating disorders, too ‚ÄĒ so why do we ignore them?
|globalnews.ca 15 May 2019 at 11:20|
In a recent interview , Twitter CEO and tech giant Jack Dorsey said that he only eats one meal a day during the workweek (dinner) and on weekends, he fasts.
‚ÄúThe first time I did it, like Day 3, I felt like I was hallucinating,‚ÄĚ Dorsey told fitness influencer Ben Greenfield.
‚ÄúIt was a weird state to be in. But as I did it the next two times, it just became so apparent to me how much of our days are centred around meals and how ‚ÄĒ the experience I had was when I was fasting for much longer ‚ÄĒ how time really slowed down.‚ÄĚ
Dorsey said his diet allowed him to ‚Äúfeel so much more focused,‚ÄĚ and it was widely lauded as the secret to his success .
In some instances, Dorsey‚Äôs diet was described as ‚Äú biohacking ,‚ÄĚ a practice common to Silicon Valley that promotes the use of restrictive diets and fasts as a way to optimize productivity.
However, critics were quick to point out that Dorsey‚Äôs habits sounded a lot like those of an eating disorder. People also took issue with his extreme fasting being spoken about in a positive light.
Dr. Simon Sherry , a registered psychologist who specializes in eating disorders, says these concerns are valid because, oftentimes, men aren‚Äôt made aware that their food habits can be a sign of disordered eating.
(Editor‚Äôs note: Sherry made it extremely clear that he cannot diagnose Dorsey with any eating disorder, but he is concerned with the narrative around his diet. Dorsey himself has never claimed to struggle with an eating disorder, either.)
‚ÄúThere is a problem where eating disorders are mischaracterized as female or as feminine‚Ä¶ and that‚Äôs just not the case,‚ÄĚ Sherry said.
According to Sherry, about 0.2 to 0.3 per cent of the male population will have anorexia nervosa at some point in their life. For bulimia nervosa , that number rises to between 2.1 and 2.5 per cent of the population. For binge eating disorders , it‚Äôs between one and three per cent.
‚ÄúThis is far from an exclusively female problem,‚ÄĚ said Sherry.
Sherry attributes much of the misunderstanding about male eating disorders to a perceived disconnect between eating disorders and masculinity.
‚ÄúSince eating disorders are cast as a feminine issue‚Ä¶ (they) run counter to masculine gender norms,‚ÄĚ Sherry said.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs hard to imagine John Wayne suffering from an eating disorder. You‚Äôre silent, you‚Äôre tough, you‚Äôre independent.‚ÄĚ
Sherry says men are taught that they‚Äôre not supposed to be sick or struggling ‚ÄĒ especially not with a ‚Äúwoman‚Äôs illness‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ and this prevents them from coming forward with their illness.
‚ÄúWe can be especially stigmatizing of men who don‚Äôt conform to masculine gender norms,‚ÄĚ he said.
Aryel Maharaj, outreach and education co-ordinator at the (NEDIC), sees this often in his work.
‚ÄúBoys and men are less likely to seek help,‚ÄĚ he said.
‚ÄúWhen someone identifies as a male and they contact us on our helpline, for example, we‚Äôll do some extra validation.‚ÄĚ
NEDIC operates a helpline for those struggling with eating disorders from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
This can look like extra encouragement or reassurance that the person calling in is not alone in his struggle.
‚ÄúWe even have pamphlets and resources specifically for men and boys,‚ÄĚ Maharaj said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs probably been a big fight for them to contact us in the first place.‚ÄĚ
According to Maharaj, anyone can have an eating disorder, and it‚Äôs a mental illness that needs to be taken seriously.
‚ÄúPeople always want to know the causes‚Ä¶ but the development of an eating disorder can‚Äôt really be contributed to a specific person or event or gene.‚ÄĚ
Without a clear single cause to blame, eating disorders are sometimes ‚ÄĒ dangerously ‚ÄĒ attributed to choice.
‚ÄúPart of the stigma surrounding eating disorders is constructing it in terms of personal responsibility ‚ÄĒ these are choices that you can or cannot make,‚ÄĚ said Sherry.
‚ÄúTo reduce an eating disorder to a question of personal responsibility is a wild discrepancy from what research tells us. Research tells us an eating disorder is a biologically based disorder involving genetic risk factors and high heritability estimates.‚ÄĚ
Securing the funding for research on disordered eating in men is even harder because of the stigma that surrounds it.
‚ÄúStigma is driving slower recognition of eating disorder symptoms and stigma is driving delayed help-seeking,‚ÄĚ said Sherry.
This appears to be especially true for men who admit themselves to an eating disorder clinic.
‚ÄúThey have a lower body mass index on average and they‚Äôre at a higher age on average,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúThat suggests that we‚Äôve got someone who‚Äôs finally getting help, but they‚Äôre older‚Ä¶ and they‚Äôre arguably suffering from a more severe version of the problem, compared to women, as expressed in their lower body mass index.‚ÄĚ
This stigma is amplified by the stigma of eating disorders more broadly, too.
‚ÄúThere is a heavy stigma surrounding disordered eating for men and for women alike‚Ä¶ and it runs deep,‚ÄĚ he said.
‚ÄúTo give you a concrete example‚Ä¶ in Canada, per person with an eating disorder per year, we spend about $2.41 on someone with an eating disorder. In contrast, for someone with autism, we‚Äôre spending about $462.14.‚ÄĚ
For Sherry, change begins with increased mental health literacy across the board.
‚ÄúMental health literacy surrounding eating disorders is very low, and that needs to be corrected on several levels. Practitioners and researchers need more information. The general public also needs more information,‚ÄĚ he said.
Sherry is also determined to eliminate the ‚Äúchoice‚ÄĚ narrative.
‚ÄúWe have to challenge (people when they) mistakenly admire certain aspects of disordered eating,‚ÄĚ Sherry said.
When it comes to helping men specifically, the stigma has to go.
‚ÄúThe stigma often involves a deep and profound sense of shame‚Ä¶ We have to start challenging the myths and misconceptions about the data,‚ÄĚ he added.
In his work at NEDIC, Maharaj is focused on intersectionality.
‚ÄúEspecially for folks who come from underserved populations ‚ÄĒ whether that‚Äôs queer and trans folks, people of colour or Indigenous people,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúWe need to make sure that those people also have a voice at the table.‚ÄĚ
Eating disorders are serious, but there are effective treatments available.
That‚Äôs why Dr. Allan Kaplan, senior clinician and chief of research at the in Toronto, believes it‚Äôs of the utmost importance to teach men how to recognize the signs and symptoms of disordered eating.
According to Kaplan, there are three major recognized eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.
‚ÄúAnorexia nervosa is characterized by being a low weight, which compromises a person‚Äôs physical and emotional functioning,‚ÄĚ Kaplan said.
‚ÄúBulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating and purging, usually at a normal weight. (It) has a lower mortality, but it certainly has a high morbidity ‚ÄĒ it affects people‚Äôs quality of life.
‚ÄúFinally, binge eating disorder generally affects obese people, but they do not compensate ‚ÄĒ they don‚Äôt purge, they don‚Äôt starve themselves, they don‚Äôt over-exercise.‚ÄĚ
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.