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Male Eating Disorders

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Eating Disorders in Males

Prof. Rich Halverson

Psychology 41: Psychology of Health & Illness

December 3, 2001

Rachel Stein

Eating disorders have traditionally been a "woman's problem." It has not been until recently that we have recognized the fact that males are suffering from these deadly disorders as well. It has been generally agreed upon that anywhere from five to 15 percent of all reported cases of eating disorders are attributed to men. This paper will examine its incidence in males and the physical and psychological aspects associated with having an eating disorder.

First lets look at the history of eating disorders. The very first case of an eating disorder diagnosed was actually a male. In 1689, Dr. Richard Morton described a case of "nervous consumption" in a 16-year-old male and he was prescribed restraint from horseback riding and his studies. (Carlat, Camargo, & Herzog, 1997) In the 1700s the full plump female figure was considered to be the most beautiful because it showed a sign of wealth. It was not until the 1920s that smaller female figures seemed to be in vogue. The Barbie doll came out in the 1940s which put an absolutely unrealistic measuring stick up to little girls. It was during this time that women began to dress more "provocatively" in flapper dresses. The 1960s saw an upsurgance of anorexia when Twiggy, the gaunt British actress became popular. And recently our society has seen an increase in the incidence of eating disorders, especially in men.

Now lets define anorexia nervosa and bulimia. According to the DSM-IV the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa are "body image distortion, amenorrhea, and intense fear of gaining weight, resulting in body weight that is at least 15% below that expected for age and height." (Hausenblas & Carron, 1999) The definition for bulimia is less clear. Bulimia includes "self-evaluation that is unduly influenced by body shape or weight and recurrent episodes of uncontrollable binge eating...followed by inappropriate compensatory behavior undertaken to prevent weight gain." (Hausenblas & Carrron, 1999) This compensatory behavior may include use of laxatives, diuretics, self-induced vomiting, strict dieting, fasting or inordinate exercising. Unlike anorexics, bulimics are usually at or above their body weight.

These diseases may result in biological problems including amenorrhea for females, gonadotropin secretion in males, electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal disorders, endocrine problems, and may result in death. "A full 8-18% of anorexic patients die as a result of the affliction." (Zerbe, 1992) Psychologically these individuals usually have problems with depression, anxiety, and obsessive/compulsive disorders. (Crosscope-Happel, Hutchins, & Hayes, 2000)

Studies have shown that over one million males are affected with anorexia nervosa yearly. (Crosscope-Happel, Hutchins, & Hayes, 2000) Some have suggested that these numbers are on the rise as the media continues to assert a more and more unattainable goal of beauty on the public.

The majority of the population suffering from eating disorders is female, so lets look at the general prototype of a patient. She is generally a teenager, from a middle to upper class background and white. She generally excels at schoolwork and extra-curricular activities, and is often times labeled a perfectionist. How does this differ from a male with eating disorders? Not all that much actually, he also does well in school although sports tend to be overemphasized.

The family tends to play an important role in the development of eating disorders. Males tend to have very strict, domineering fathers who encouraged development in sports.



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