Eating disorders are a behavioral illness that is almost exclusively associated with females. However, according to experts as many as one out of three teens with an eating disorder is, in fact, male.
Additionally, teenage boys are just as likely to develop what behavioral experts refer to as, subclinical eating disorders, which include binge eating, fasting (for weight loss), and laxative abuse.
What's more, eating disorders, like many other mental or behavioral health disorders, have become epidemic affecting upwards of 10 million males during at least one point in their lives. To make matters worse, teenage boys far less likely to seek treatment or even admit to having an eating disorder largely thanks to sexist stigmatization namely, being that the behavioral illness is largely associated with females. While this culturally and politically incorrect sentiment might speak volumes pertaining to our nation’s gender-bias issues and discrimination, it also serves as a grave reminder that millions of teenage boys will be left untreated for what is considered by mental health experts to be potentially fatal.
It's not all bad news though. According to research, adolescent males who receive adequate treatment are likely to successfully overcome an eating disorder, a behavioral illness that can be potentially fatal if otherwise left untreated.
Boys Have Just as Many Body-Image Issues as Girls
While body image issues are largely associated with that of females, males are just as likely to feel insecure about their physical form, and therefore, just as likely to succumb to pressures to look good. These pressures, self-imposed or otherwise, are sometimes enough to cause teenage males to turn to life-threatening eating disorders, including starving, purging, and eating minimal amounts of food.
Cultural stigmas, misconceptions, and biases aside, males put just as much pressure on themselves to look good. Unfortunately, in today's America, superficialities such as societal pressure to look a certain way have caused both male and female teens to turn to life-threatening measures, such as eating less, purging, or starving themselves to meet the unhealthily high standards society (and themselves) has set for them.
What's more, like teenage girls, boys are especially prone to suffering from body dysmorphia.
Body dysmorphia is a mental health disorder that is defined as one having a delusional perception of their own body. This perception typically involves teenage boys perceiving themselves as being too fat, too skinny, or lacking muscle tone they feel as though their peers have attained with similar efforts. The latter is what is known as muscle dysmorphia. As its classification suggests, muscle dysmorphia is a subtype of body dysmorphia which involves a teenage boy becoming obsessed with gaining muscle mass.
Of course, generally speaking, the desire to develop muscle is a perfectly normal endeavor for teenage males to pursue. However, it is when this desire becomes a single-minded obsession, one that a teenage boy will attempt to meet at any cost, even when that means taking drastically unhealthy measures, that this effort goes beyond that of healthy personal goals and develops into muscle dysmorphia disorder.
Unhealthy habits typically associated with muscle dysmorphia include:
- taking steroids
- Spending excessive or unhealthily dangerous hours in the gym
- and abnormal eating patterns
Research Shows That Teenage Boys Can Develop Anorexia Just as Easily as Girls
As it is with females, males typically develop anorexia during their teenage years, the time in which teens are first made aware and vulnerable to the impact of cultural expectations and sexual attraction
Unfortunately, in addition to anorexic boys attempting to become skinny, they also put extra stress on their body in order to achieve muscle tone, or in their own words, “to be ripped, not skinny.” Clinically, this physicality adds severe stress to an already starving and fatigued adolescent body. The combination of starving oneself and working out excessively makes common male anorexia even more dangerous than typical cases of anorexic females. Without proper treatment, male anorexia can prove to be fatal, or at the very least cause permanent bodily damage.