Stigma keeps males with eating disorders from seeking help

Posted on 02/26/18 03:35:pm

There’s a general misconception that eating disorders only affect women. But Dr. Nicholas Farrell, psychologist and clinical supervisor of Rogers’ Eating Disorder services, is working to shed light on how eating disorders also affect males.

“Many people believe that being female is required in order to experience symptoms of an eating disorder,” Dr. Farrell says. “Several decades ago, it was widely assumed that eating disorders in males were a rarity. It’s only been in recent years that we’ve discovered that males make up a more substantial proportion of individuals who struggle with eating disorders.”

According to Dr. Farrell, around 20-30% of people with eating disorders are male; however, many of them aren’t being treated due in part to a lack of understanding of the warning signs.

“There is evidence that males with eating disorders are more likely to engage in extreme, excessive forms of exercise,” Dr. Farrell says. “We know that in many cases, this excessive exercising is done with the aim of ‘bulking up,’ which illustrates another critical difference between eating disorders in males versus females.”

Men and women alike both feel pressure from society to adhere to a certain body type, and Dr. Farrell says that people are socialized to associate thin women and muscular men with success and happiness. Public stigma can also prevent men with eating disorders from seeking help or even admitting that they have a problem.

“I think it’s also vitally important for people to understand that for many males with eating disorders, public stigma—such as the idea that males cannot have an eating disorder—presents an enormous barrier to coming forward and seeking help.”

While difficult to come forward, Dr. Farrell says that being around other males with eating disorders “provides a great deal of relief knowing that they are far from alone in their struggle.”

Treatment for males with eating disorders

Regardless of gender, cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective form of treatment for those who struggle with an eating disorder, according to Dr. Farrell. The next big step, he says, is getting society past the idea that men can’t develop an eating disorder.

“I think we will clear this hurdle eventually as we increase our efforts to spread the message that eating disorders can occur in males and there is no shame in this,” Dr. Farrell says. “In other words, males are not any less ‘manly’ if they struggle with an eating disorder, no different than if they experienced depression or an anxiety disorder.

“It helps that multiple organizations and even some prominent public figures are beginning to use their platform to demystify the idea that eating disorders do not affect males.”

Learn more about the struggles of males with eating disorders by watching the video embeded at the top to meet three past patients of Rogers, which was created in collaboration between Rogers and ANAD.

Call 800-767-4411 or go to to request a free screening.