Male Anorexia & Bulimia

By Scott Mc Cann

     You are probably aware of the story of Karen Carpenter, the pop singer who died in 1983 at the age of 32 from heart failure. The direct result of her battle with Anorexia Nervosa. More recently, you have seen the tabloids or television stories of female entertainers who have or alleged to have eating disorders. On daytime television, doctors and other experts discuss the disease of anorexia and bulimia experienced by young girls.

     żBut what about males? Before I address that question I should first describe what Anorexia and Bulimia is. Both Anorexia and Bulimia are extremely dangerous and addictive eating disorders similar to overeating and exercise addiction. Anorexia Nervosa is the severe reduction or complete cessation of eating or caloric intake. Bulimia on the other hand is the process of binge eating and then purging of food or calories through forced vomiting, induced bowel movements, or excessive exercise.

     Anorexics can die of starvation and malnutrition. Cardiac disease and arrest is the most common cause of death as the heart muscles literally starve and loose size. Damage to the kidney, stomach, ruptured blood vessels in the face, enlarged lymph, and salivary glands. Damage to the brain, emotional and physical disturbance, depression, and suicide.

     Bulimia has many of the same complications as Anorexia Nervosa, however, because of the hydrochloric acid released from the stomach due to induced vomiting, Bulimics experience problems with esophgitis, throat, mouth, and tooth damage. Many die from ruptured esophagus or heart. It is one of the most horrible ways to die. Bulimia however does not carry the high mortality rate of Anorexia.

     There is the popular belief that extreme thinness and an emaciated appearance is the primary symptom of both Anorexia and Bulimia. This is not the case for Bulimics; who through the process of binge eating and then purging maintain an almost ideal weight. Combined with regimented exercise they appear on the outside to be the perfect example of physical fitness. Usually the dentist sees the first symptoms of Bulimia.

     The emaciated thinness associated with Anorexia only occurs in the advanced stages of the disease. Much of the internal damage has already started. Dry, flaky skin, clay pallor, thinning scalp hair while at the same time showing facial hair growth, and hair growth in the cleavage and on the back. Menstrual problems occur. A very controlling or agitated behavior. Eating alone or eating only a narrow selection of foods. Wearing loose or non-figure conforming clothes.

     Anorexics and Bulimics have many of the same characteristics of the alcoholic or drug addict. They continue to deny any problem while continuing to do damage to themselves. They become defensive, quarrelsome, and irrational when their problem is discussed. They control and manipulate the family. Moreover, Anorexia and Bulimia, like alcoholism, is a progressive disease, which only gets worse. It cannot be argued, pleaded, supervised, or loved away by family members.

     For a complete listing, see "Symptoms of Anorexia & Bulimia"

     Anorexia and Bulimia can start after puberty with the onset of stressful life events, leaving home for college, parents divorcing, starting a new career. It can also on set with midlife stresses, divorce, layoff, and illness in the family or retirement. Many of the same reasons why some people drink and use drugs.

     Most published statistics state that 90% of cases of Anorexia and Bulimia occur in young women. I believe this statistic is misleading. It significantly under represents the number of males and older adults with Anorexia and Bulimia. Males can be at particular risk of developing life-threatening medical problems because they are often misdiagnosed or diagnosed later than females.

     There are several explanations for the later or missed diagnosis of this disease in men. First is the wide spread press and medical belief that this is a female problem. There is, however, no published study that verifies the addiction of Anorexia/Bulimia is any more physiologically gender specific than any other addiction. The family doctor, psychologist, and concerned family member are just not on the "look-out" for it.  Their cases go under reported.

     The males often cover-up the problem with drugs and alcohol. Excessive exercise by men in sports like; jogging, cycling, and tennis where excess "dead" weight is a performance concern may also mask the problem. The males eat for performance and appearance, not for nutrition. Outwardly, they may look healthily.

     Most drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities do not treat eating disorders and less than half of the eating disorder rehabs accept men. The written screening test or questionnaires are often gender biased focusing up to 40% of the questions on menses, amenorrhea, and female emotional behavior. Most published literature on the topic is written in the female gender rather than gender neutral.

     Many company provided health insurance policies will not cover inpatient rehabilitation treatment for male eating disorders. Inpatient stays for treatment of Anorexia and Bulimia are typically longer. Anywhere from 90 days to six months or longer. Compare this to the typical 21 to 28 days for drug and alcohol rehab. Society is just not prepared for a male to be gone this long.

     While coming in contact with about 50 men living in a sober living home between 2001 and 2004, eight of the men disclosed to me that they had experienced Anorexia or Bulimia. Two of the men were currently practicing their disease. This particular home does not have a policy for dealing with co-addictions other than drugs and alcohol. Two AM grassing through resident's refrigerators and purging is not considered a relapse.

     AnonymousOne is read in more than 100 countries. Consistently the most frequent search engine key words to find AnonymousOne are Anorexia and Bulimia. Outranking alcoholism and drugs. On occasion AnonymousOne receives e-mails from readers of this site. While preparing this article, AnonymousOne received the following e-mails.

"To anyone listening,

I am currently deployed in Iraq with the army and I have an eating disorder. Bulimia to be exact. I have suffered for more years than I can count and I need help. Unfortunately, I can not tell anyone in the army because I would be discharged for having mental problems. I came into the army because I thought I could get away from the addiction of bulimia but to my dismay it has followed me here also. I have been researching self-help books, online chat groups, and so forth but unfortunately I have been restricted access to online chat groups for security reasons. And until now have not been able to contact anyone. I read the testimony from Gary B from California and related to his story almost to the " T ". If there is anyone in your organization that would be willing to help me just by contacting me and giving me direction considering my situation I would appreciate it. Anything would be helpful. Thank you."

"I didn't think there were any male anorexics out there--but there are. I heard from a friend that she came across a USC student who is a male anorexic...and I met over a web site a male AA guy who is my age and very anorexic."

"...I love your web site and love the newsletter--so wonderful what you're doing. I'm really struggling with the food -- so damn afraid to eat/to gain weight/to give up control. You're an inspiration to me with your recovery. Write/call anytime. Lots of love to you, bro... Stan"

     As a male or older adult; a family member or friend who is experiencing symptoms of Anorexia or Bulimia, what can you do?

     Seek help immediately. See a doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. If they say it is only a young female's disease, walk away. They are wrong and you do not have time to educate them. Several doctors accept the possibility of male Anorexia and Bulimia.

     Try to attend a meeting of Overeaters Anonymous (OA) or Compulsive Eaters Anonymous (CEA). There are several meetings around the world and you can usually find offices in the white or yellow pages of your local telephone directory. If there is not an OA or CEA meeting in your area, attend an open meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. You will find many similarities in the addictions.

     Buy yourself a copy of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as the "Big Book" and a red pen. Go through the first 164 pages of the book, cross out the words alcohol and alcoholism and replace them with food and compulsive eater (or Anorexia/Bulimia if you wish), then read the book. You will find it makes a lot of sense. Buy a copy of the Twelve Steps For Overeaters Anonymous. If you cannot find one, then buy a copy of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of AA using the same word replacement techniques. Journal about your life experience with Anorexia/Bulimia.

     There is an old AA expression. "If you think you got it, then you probably do"

     By the way, that soldier is doing fine. He followed some of the steps mentioned above and went to his post psychologist. Wouldn't you know it, the psychologist also has Bulimia.

© copyright 2004

[ BACK ]

[ home | meetings | articles | meditations | events | seminars | stories | books ]