January 25, 2006

Anorexia in Men

Anorexia in men is a growing problem that few recognize and even fewer are willing to talk about
By Shaya Tayefe Mohajer


NEW YORK - Much has been written about the rapid weight loss of such Hollywood starlets as Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Ritchie.

But a silent population has been whittling away, dangerously, far from snarky gossip pages and under the radar of many doctors.

Men who struggle with anorexia nervosa, which is routinely underdiagnosed, often find themselves marginalized not only by their negative self-image, but by the way the disease has been stereotyped as a female disorder.

Experts say that the number of men with eating disorders is on the rise, with cultural influences like chiseled rappers, metrosexual male models and even animated heroes sharing some blame. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders estimates that a million men suffer from eating disorders - one in every eight Americans with such a disorder.
"With males, we're still at a stage that we're not on the alert," said Dr. Steven Levenkron, an eating-disorder specialist and author who has treated anorexics for 34 years.
One reason for the underdiagnosis: male anorexics often overexercise more than they undereat. Thus, rather than refusing meals, they might even eat what appears to be a normal diet - but because they spend hours every day exercising, the net effect is that they will lose weight, radically and dangerously.

As a high-school athlete, Gary Grahl practically lived in the gym and served himself dinners of vegetables with a "dressing" of tomato soup.
"I would exercise constantly. I'd get up at 3:30 in the morning and exercise before school. I'd work out after school, and again before bed," said Grahl, now 37.
Even when the 5'9" Grahl, who played baseball, basketball and football, hit 103 pounds, he obsessed about the fat content of foods. Though he was hungry all the time and loved food, Grahl always said he was full.
"A person with an eating disorder will always say they're full, but I was always hungry. I liked feeling hunger because it felt like power," Grahl said.

His goal was to weigh 90 lbs - a goal he could not reach before being hospitalized.
Whittling down to such a dangerously low weight seems contrary to the muscle-bound images of men in the media. But Levenkron said that other personality traits are at work.
"When I treat women, I'm working against a lot of media and ads - I'm outnumbered. But with men, I fight their obsessiveness," Levenkron said.

The typical male anorexic will express rigidity in thinking or overthink what should be simple decisions. Male anorexics can charm a room but lack the ability to have close relationships with others. Marked drops in libido are also common.

At least one British study, conducted by the Eating Disorder Association in London, noted that issues of gender and sexuality are often tied to male anorexia - perhaps a factor in making it a more taboo topic.
"In males who are gay there's a much higher incidence of males with eating disorders," said Steve Bloomfield, a spokesperson for the EDA. "It does particularly affect the gay community because the community has a particular interest in physique and looks, and plus, you've got the stress of coming out or not."

Another reason that anorexia can go undetected in men is as simple as the physical difference in anatomies of men and women, Levenkron explains. Because men don't menstruate, doctors can't rely on the cessation of menstruation as a physiological indicator of an eating disorder, as they do in women.

Men also might be more reluctant to talk about eating disorders - a notoriously secretive problem for both sexes.
"I had to go through therapy to learn to socialize and express my feelings," said Grahl, whose anorexia was diagnosed in 1985 and who was treated until Dec. 15, 1989. "In a way, it was immature, and I had to grow up."

Now a high-school counselor in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., Grahl has been married for 12 years and has three children. He says that his life has completely turned around. He hasss learned how to have closer relationships with his loved ones and about his own needs and now he shares his experiences through public speaking.
"I want people to know, it's OK to talk about it," Grahl said. "It's hard, but it's OK to talk about it."

1 comment:

  1. I think all of these same comments could be made about men with bulimia as well. One thing I hate that tends to be in most articles about EDs, whether about men or woman, is when they describe the 'typical bulimic' or the 'typical anorexic'---yes, I believe there are things that are common in personalities among people with EDs, but it just feels so contrived when I read the descriptions.


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