Male anorexia: causes, symptoms and peculiarities

We have all seen or heard of anorexia at one time or another.

Almost always the image that comes to mind when talking about this disorder is that of an adolescent in puberty or a woman who has just entered adulthood, with obsessive fear and / or a refusal to increase or maintain your current weight and a distorted body image that cause an overrated idea of ​​the need to lose weight.

However, although female sex is most common in clinical practice, the existence of a relevant sector of men with this disorder should not be forgotten. So we are talking about the existence of male anorexia.

Confronting the concept of anorexia: what are we talking about?

To understand this disorder, you have to visualize what we are talking about. Anorexia is one of the most common eating disorders, with a prevalence that has increased from around 0.5% to 5% of the world’s population in a few years, a percentage that continues to increase over the years. Of this percentage, 90% of cases are women (usually between 14 and 18 years old), and 10% of them are men. It is the mental disorder with the greatest risk of death in adolescence, being one of the few psychiatric disorders capable of causing the death of the affected person on their own.

The symptoms that make you suspect and be able to diagnose this disorder are the refusal to maintain a minimum body weight, the fear of gaining weight, a distorted perception of your own body image which induces weight loss by different strategies, either by the stop ingestion. , being this type of anorexia of the restrictive type, or by means of compensatory strategies (vomiting or exercise) in the case of anorexia of the purgative / compulsive type. These phenomena led him to lose at least 15% of his body weight, as well as not feeling sick. outraged in the case of women, there is also the presence of amenorrhea or lack of menstruation.

Epidemiology of male anorexia

As mentioned, 10% of cases of anorexia occur in men. Within the male population with anorexia, according to studies, there appear to be certain groups at risk.

homosexual population

Studies show that the gay population (as well as, albeit to a lesser extent, bisexuals) has an increased risk of anorexia, Have a high proportion of cases in this sector of the population. One hypothesis on the reason for this higher prevalence suggests that it is due to the existence of a great emotional tension at the stage of the formation of his identity when taking his sexual orientation. This high tension and fear of rejection makes it easier to suffer from eating disorders when trying to reduce them by focusing on your own image.

social rejection

Another group with a high number of cases is that of bullying and social rejection.. People with a history of social rejection due to being overweight are at an increased risk of developing male anorexia. As in the previous case, it causes great tension during identity formation which causes vulnerability and fixation on one’s own body figure and the ideal of male beauty.

Elite athletes / models

A final high risk group is that of child athletes.Those who face setting performance expectations too high by adults tend to have less tolerance for failure, trying to correct with a lower intake and achieving a higher level of exercise.

Distinctive features of male anorexia

Male anorexia, although it shares most of its characteristics with its female counterpart, Presents a number of peculiarities which are beginning to be explored.

Social perception of the disease

One of the differences stems from the lack of social perception of this disease in men. Given the high prevalence of eating disorders in women, there is a social image that these disorders do not occur in men, that there is no male anorexia. While in the case of women, anorexia has been established as a problem of high priority and importance, in the case of men, this disorder has often been underestimated, receiving little attention and little study.


Likewise, the gender role traditionally attributed to man implies that man must act as a protector., Having to show your strength and hide your weaknesses. This means that, as a rule, the individual does not actively seek help in dealing with these problems, nor when it comes to expressing his emotions.

There is usually a feeling of weakness and social judgment which leads to keeping the behaviors a secret even if they gain awareness of the disease. Likewise, many learned behaviors, such as excessive exercise, are perceived both by those suffering from the disease and by something they could not live without, so there is a strong resistance to the disease. seeking professional help. There is also a tendency to underestimate the effects and severity of the symptoms of the disorder and its effects.

behavior pattern

In the case of men, the typical pattern of behavior also changes. As with women, society and the beauty canon that prevails in today’s society puts constant pressure on body image. In the case of women, this canon makes them look thin. In the case of men, however, in addition to being thin comes the need to maintain a toned and muscular body.

Thus, although in women the most common anorexia subtype is restrictive anorexia, in which they reduce their consumption and practice a variety of diets, in male anorexia, the purgative / compulsive subtype is more common, In which we try to reduce weight by means of conduits that compensate for the calorie gain and generate more muscle mass. Thus, it is more common for men to exercise compulsively.

Treatment of male anorexia

There are also some variations in the treatment of anorexia in men.

Male anorexia, as noted above, tends to be underestimated and underdiagnosed, which prevents men with this disorder from not receiving treatment. and adequate support for their needs. Generally, men tend to take longer to go for a consultation because of this problem, which in principle makes it difficult and slows down the resolution of the disorder.

Male anorexia, however, has a slight edge over its female counterpart. The response to treatment tends to be faster in men during the first phase of treatment, which is more behaviorally focused, due to better understanding and apparent follow-up to direct treatments. It should be noted that this type of disorder in humans is usually associated with an idea of ​​personal weakness or extravagance. This makes a specific diagnosis often a relief, given the best understanding of what is happening to them. That’s why they have a better reaction.

The treatment of this disorder is a complex phenomenon. The basic goals of treatment would be to restore weight to a healthy level, treat physical and psychological complications, improve motivation and eating habits and change the perception of body image, adapting to the reality. In this way Common treatments are systematic desensitization, exposure with prevention of response and changes in body image. The improvement of the support network and the prevention of relapses are also envisaged.

In conclusion, it should be noted that in both men and women, anorexia nervosa is a serious disorder which can lead to the death of the patient and should be treated with the highest priority, seriousness and utmost respect.

Bibliographical references:

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  • Corbeil-Serre, L .; Best, D. and Turgeon, M.È. (2014). Anorexia nervosa in adolescent men and young adults: a review of the literature. Eating Disorders Laboratory, Department of Psychology, University of Montreal.
  • Greenberg, ST and Schoen, EG (2008). Men and Eating Disorders: Gender-Based Therapy for Eating Disorder Recovery. Professor Psychol Res Pract; 39: 464-71.
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  • National Institute for Excellence in Health and Care (2004). Eating Disorders: Health interventions in the treatment and management of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and related eating disorders. London: National Institute for Excellence in Health and Care.

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