It is known that eating disorders are more common in women than men. Data shows that one in three people struggling with eating disorders and disordered eating behaviours are men. The eating disorders might include binge eating, purging, substance abuse and muscle dysmorphia.

Although eating disorders may affect several males throughout their lives, men are less likely to seek for treatment for the eating disorders due to cultural bias. Eating disorders are often characterised as feminine or gay and men might want to avoid this double stigma. For this reason, eating disorders and body image issues in men might be neglected in diagnosis and treatment.

Differences between female and male eating disorders

Weight History

Men and women differ in their weight histories. Men often are mildly to moderately obese at one point in their lives before developing an eating disorder. They are more likely to develop eating disorders if obesity was present in their childhood. In contrast to men, women that generally felt fat in the past use compensatory behaviours such as exercise and food restriction for weight loss. Women are also more likely to have had a normal weight history.


Women are more likely to turn to exercise for weight loss, whereas men are more likely to use exercise to avoid the potential of develop medical conditions that their parents especially fathers developed in their lives. Sometimes men are motivated to lose weight or gain weight to achieve significance in sports and at times being eligible to compete.

A common behaviour in eating disordered men is excessive exercise which might turn obsessive. Some men use exercise for caloric intake, whilst other men exercise for weight loss or to promote better health, and this might result in self-starvation. It is possible that this can begin to have an impact on their everyday life such as work, social activities or other responsibilities.

Depression and shame

Research shows that males suffering from eating disorders often experience depression and shame. Due to cultural bias, men are often encouraged and expected to hide their “vulnerabilities” such as depression and shame. These two “vulnerabilities” are often characterised as feminine. The stigma of eating disorders in men may lead to underreporting of the symptoms which prevents diagnosis, treatment, but also research in this area for advancement.

It is therefore crucial that we, as a society, promote an accepted culture and safe environment that will allow men to show their vulnerabilities.

Muscle dysmorphia

  • Body dysmorphia disorder (BDD) is a mental health disorder in which one has obsessive thoughts with imagined physical defects on their body. This defect is often not observed by others.
  • BDD shares some features with eating disorders such as concern with body image.
  • In muscle dysmorphia, individuals can find themselves being occupied with the thought of not being sufficiently muscular or lean, when this might not be the case.
  • Studies show that men struggling with muscle dysmorphia might also struggle with eating disorders.

Substance abuse

When suffering from muscle dysmorphia, substance abuse of steroids and growth hormones is common. These drugs generate changes in the muscle mass, and a long-term use of stereoids and growth hormones are associated with depression, high cholesterol, and suicidal ideation when withdrawing from them. Sadly, it is common that individuals suffering from this will be diagnosed with substance abuse disorder, whilst the eating disorder is neglected.

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Ideal bodies presented in media

The focus on muscularity has become greater over the past 30 years in popular culture, and this has had a great impact on male body image ideals.

Over the years, action figures have consistently become more muscular. Moreover, male models in particular in magazines were measured to be unattainable. The male bodies were not realistic as they had extremely small waists, large chests and large biceps. After viewing advertisement with muscular men/ “ideal bodies”, male participants in a study reported experiencing increased depression and greater body dissatisfaction. This muscular ideal is not realistic and might therefore have an impact on male body dissatisfaction, use of excessive exercise and drugs.


If you are struggling with an eating disorder, and want to understand more about treatment or recovery, WeightMatters is here to help you. Our multidisciplinary team of psychotherapists, nutritionists, and a psychiatrist, offers assessments and specialized care plans suited to your needs.