It is Eating Disorders Awareness Week! This year I’m busting some myths!
Eating disorders are a female problem
This is based on the assumption that eating disorders are all about vanity and since girls are subjected to pressure to look a certain way, they will succome to the perils of an eating disorder. There are 2 problems with this assumption:
- Eating disorders are rarely anything to do with vanity – the sufferer may be troubled by their looks but disgust and hatred tend to be the most promenant feelings
- Female bodies are under scrutiny but males suffer peer pressure too – musculature, stature, size, shape – males are “supposed” to look a certain way too.
However, there is a genetic component to developing an eating disorder. Having a predisposition does not mean you will definitely develop one but having this genetic predisposition means only a few environmental triggers need to be present for the eating disorder to emerge. Both males and females can have this genetic predisposition and environmental factors (peer pressure, stress, bereavement etc) may impact the individual at any time.
It’s become a cultural norm to discuss diet, weight loss and body shape. This is unhelpful for our mental health. Our relationship with food should be one of fuel and health – nourishing our bodies should be the norm. Whether we’re male or female it seems no one is immune to the pressure to sculpt our bodies into something they can’t do naturally. While females are pressured to be slim, males are pressured to have specific musculature.
An eating disorder may be triggered by the pressure to change our body but it quickly turns into something more sinister. For some an eating disorder is a way to become invisible, a form of punishment and/or a way to cope with complex emotional distress. The sufferer of an eating disorder may not be able to see their true reflection in the mirror, they may see someone a lot bigger or a lot smaller than they really are – this is a form of body dismorphia and it’s a lot more complex than being a bit vain.
By perpetuating the myth that only females get eating disorders, males who become unwell will feel even more stigmatised and are less likely to seek help.
Just imagine you’re a young man who started exercising to build muscle but because you were under stress you became unwell and became gripped by an eating disorder, you body became smaller and you struggled to find a way out on your own. You realised you might have this “girls disease” – how much worse do you feel now? We need to ensure the word is out there that males suffer eating disorders too – mental illness does not discriminate, it is just that, an illness of the mind.