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Males And Eating Disorders: Are Eating Disorders Different for Boys?

Eating disorders were once the province of teenage girls. Today, it’s becoming an equal opportunity disorder. So parents of young men must pay attention as well. Dr. Ahmed Boachie, Director of the Eating Disorders Program at Southlake Regional Health Centre, and Karin Jasper, Ph.D., Clinical Mental Health Specialist at Southlake Regional Health Centre, share their new findings. Boachie and Jasper are authors of A Parent’s Guide to Defeating Eating Disorders: Spotting the Stealth Bomber and Other Symbolic Approaches.

Eating disorders (EDs) have traditionally affected girls more than boys. Today, however, the gap appears to be closing as boys face increasing expectations and pressure to meet socially determined body ideals. Risk factors for developing an ED are similar for boys and girls and include, for example: family history of an eating disorder, perfectionism, depression, history of body-based bullying, and participation in a sport that requires conformity to a weight class.

While EDs have common features for both genders, there are several differences:

  1. More boys who develop eating disorders began with a higher than average weight.
  2. Boys are more likely to make greater use of exercise because they are motivated by the ideal of muscularity rather than thinness.
  3. Males with bulimia tend to use exercise more, and self-induced vomiting less, than females.
  4. Osteopenia and osteoporosis (brittle bones vulnerable to breaking) occur at a higher rate in males with anorexia.
  5. The average length from onset to remission appears to be significantly shorter for boys.
  6. Boys have a higher rate of remission.

Look for significant changes like significant weight loss over a short time, excessive exercising and/or a change in bathroom routine. Look beyond the myth that eating disorders are a girls’ illness; parents whose son is exhibiting worrisome symptoms should schedule an assessment as soon as possible.

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