Yes, eating disorders happen to males too. It’s not as commonly discussed, and it’s not quite as prevalent, but it definitely happens.
What are some signs your son might have an eating disorder?
Here are some things I screen for when I work with adolescent males who seem very body conscious:
1. Has he become obsessed with working out? Is your son going to the gym so often that you wonder whether it’s unhealthy for him? Do you feel concerned he’s lifting too much weight and might end up injured? This can be a sign of an eating disorder in a male.
2. Is your adolescent son highly concerned with his percentage of body fat? Girls talk in pounds. Boys talk in percentage of body fat. I hear of boys wanting to get their body fat percentage down to 4% or so. They think this way they’ll look “really cut.” This isn’t healthy though. Our bodies need a certain amount of fat to function.
3. Do you notice your son trying to diet a lot? Boys who have eating disorders often attempt to skip meals or only eat fruits and vegetables for a certain meal. They want to be thinner. Because their ideal body is different than a female, this can confuse us. They may not desire to look emaciated, but their ideal is probably as airbrushed and unrealistic as any female with an eating disorder.
4. Does your son refuse to eat certain food groups? Usually males want to bulk up on protein and cut down on carbs. They won’t eat bread, chips, and sweets. Your son might be doing this because he has become body obsessed.
There are other things I screen for when assessing for body image issues, but these four are always included. If you notice these things happening, it warrants a conversation. Your son might not be very likely to see his behavior as problematic. Remember to stay on track with what is actually healthy and don’t allow yourself to be convinced otherwise.
It’s important to help your son know what he is doing to himself by overly focusing on his body. First of all, starvation coupled with excessive exercise potentially has dangerous physical consequences.
The second potential problem with too much focus on the body is character development. Anytime we become obsessed with one area of development we neglect the other parts of our life. If your son only thinks about how to make his body look and feel a certain way, then he isn’t concerned enough with working on all the other things that will make him a good man. He may exclude himself from social situations because he doesn’t want to miss a workout. He might not be emotionally present on a date because he’s worried about what to do when she wants to order dessert. He might be unable to focus in class because his caloric intake is too low.
Body image issues in teenagers seem more prevalent than ever. Males are increasingly admitting to this pressure when we meet for therapy. Some of them go so far as to diet and/or excessively exercise. It’s really important to bring this up with your son if you notice it. Your interference will help your son get back on track to being a well-rounded young man.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT