Chuck, I’m a senior in college, and my major is nutrition. Lately, I’ve watched an alarming trend of males starving themselves in order to obtain the perfectly ripped body. It seems as if what used to be an obsession for women has become a huge problem with men, too. Agree? – “Some Things Are Worth the Weight” in Nebraska
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, an alarming 1 million males ages 12 to 25 are suffering from eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia.
These diseases, which normally are associated with women, are genuinely indiscriminate. They are equal-opportunity disorders. Girls’ obsession with weight and calories is now guys’ preoccupation with fat indexes and muscle mass.
“NBC Nightly News” recently highlighted a story of a 22-year-old man who died after being secretly obsessed with diet and exercise. He was a star athlete and a straight-A student.
“He didn’t want to be skinny,” his mother told NBC. It all started because “he wanted a six-pack; he wanted rock-hard abs; he wanted muscles.”
He died doing his nightly routine of 1,000 sit-ups.
Dr. James Hudson, a Harvard psychiatry professor who has been researching and treating eating disorders for more than a quarter-century, told NBC: “It appears that the prevalence of the disorder is increasing among boys. It may be that boys are simply more comfortable coming forward now than in the past.”
In 2007, Hudson led a large study on eating disorders in the United States. The study discovered that 1 in 4 people suffering from bulimia or anorexia are male, which flies in the face of previous estimates that purported that males constitute only 10 percent of those with eating disorders.
Experts say that it takes certain personalities or mentalities to take diet and exercise to an obsessive extreme but that our culture also may be breeding them. Though the origins of eating disorders can be complex, Dr. James Lock, a psychiatrist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, told NBC that sometimes driven-ness can lead to despair. Obsessive perfectionism can lead to compulsively cutting one’s diet.
Lock said: “It’s very unusual for someone to come into my office for an assessment of anorexia if they do not have straight A’s. And this is true for boys, and this is true for girls. And in sports, these are great athletes, usually, who drive themselves to the next level.”
That isn’t to say that being driven is negative, only that it is a common trait among those battling eating disorders. Lock clarified that enhancing athletic performance and being in optimal health for competition should not be confused with anorexia.
Of course, it isn’t helping that our culture is bombarding young minds with messages everywhere that if their looks can’t equal the airbrushed cover images of many magazines, movies and media stories, they’re not worthy of being loved, liked or even noticed.
Moreover, in order to obtain their ideal look in record time, young people are taking greater risks by inducing a plethora of new hyper-fat-burning, muscle-building products that promise to make you “ripped” and lose massive amounts of weight very fast. These products have become a multibillion-dollar industry. Drop by any nutrition store and you’ll see them lining the shelves. They include, according to a recent report on ABC’s “Nightline,” some products containing illegal and unapproved drugs.
Dr. Jennifer Hagman, program director for eating disorders at Children’s Hospital Colorado since 1993, said that though it was uncommon just five years ago to see boy patients, now she “almost always (has) one to three boys in the program.” When asked why, Hagman – according to NBC – said that these boys are “victims of society’s obsession with appearance and the increased focus on childhood obesity.”
Obesity is a growing problem (no pun intended), but dieting can turn obsessive, too, and is no “weigh” to live. We need to help young people temper all things with moderation and balance, gain victory over their thoughts and desires, eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly but not obsessively, and be willing to seek help when they need it.
If you think that you or a loved one may be suffering from an eating disorder, here are some helpful resources:
- National Eating Disorders Association live helpline: 800-931-2237 (weekdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. ET)
- National Eating Disorders Association
- The National Association for Males with Eating Disorders
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
- International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals
- Eating Disorders Coalition
- Eating Disorders Resource Center
- Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders
Next week, I will give you six critical actions you can take with your children of any age to reduce their risks of eating disorders.