Male Anorexia


Each day we encounter various advertisements, images, videos and articles encouraging us to live our lives in accordance with certain standards or norms. As a result, this excess of media influence may lead to issues regarding one’s body image. A common misconception about body image is that it only affects females, and not males. The purpose of this page is to bring awareness to some of the struggles men face with body image and to diminish the misconception that body insecurities are only a female concern. Specifically, this page will be dedicated to providing information about anorexia nervosa in males. This page is devoted to anyone who has ever encountered males struggling with body image, or for those who seek more information on the topic. Various topics will be explored such as cultural influences and health implications. Also, there will be a section with contact information for anyone who requires help with anorexia nervosa.


To understand the implications of anorexia nervosa in today’s society, it is important to examine the historical aspect of this disease. In the 18th century, men restricted themselves from various desires to prove their moral worth and inner power (Halperin 2). This form of competition was very influential towards one’s reputation, and therefore a test of one’s character. To be thin meant one was poor and did not have enough food, therefore being plump was a sign of wealth, and was desired (Halperin 5). Many years later, in the 19th century, acceptable body norms for women started to change. As media broadcasts and advertisements increased, societal norms about body image flooded communities. Thin became a new fad that was desired by many women (Halperin 6) . As a result, controlling one’s food intake to maintain a certain weight took on a new extreme, and became the ultimate test of self control. One of the main reasons anorexia nervosa is commonly linked to women is because it was recognized as a female condition in the 1970’s, when the obsession with being thin exploded (Halperin 6).

Anorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder that can be defined as one’s obsession to control their food intake to achieve a certain weight or look (Definitions, NEDIC) . A person is medically diagnosed with anorexia when their body weight is at eighty-five percent less than what is considered healthy for their height (Cordero et al. 3). According to the National Eating Disorder Information Clinic, symptoms of anorexia nervosa can include a constant desire to be thin, obsessing over one’s weight, disrupted menstruation cycle in women, low libido in men, severe dieting and starvation (Definitions, NEDIC). Many people who have experienced anorexia nervosa describe it as a way in which they are able to maintain control over one aspect of their life (Definitions, NEDIC).
Statistics illustrate that nine out of ten anorexia nervosa diagnoses are female patients, with one of those patients being male; however, that is just an estimate as many men who may have anorexia nervosa often hide it and do not seek help (Cordero et al. 1). Four percent of males reported the use of steroids to achieve a certain body image (Statistics, NEDIC). Thirty-three percent of overweight males report the use of laxatives and diet pills to lose weight (Statistics, NEDIC). Twenty-five percent of adolescent boys admit to being bullied about their weight (Statistics, NEDIC). These statistics show us that issues of body image also affect males and it is not a female disease. In order to move away from previous biases and stereotypes about anorexia, it is important to consider some of the cultural influences on males and how it may be a contributor to anorexia.

Cultural Impacts
This video clip is about a formal male model named Jeremy. The term manorexia is used to describe males who are experiencing anorexia. This video shows us that pressures from the media to look a certain way also affect males.
Anorexic Male Model

One of the main contributors of insecurities about body image is due to media influences. The media represents biased body images of people, who are far from the average norm. Although many people do not have the ideal body type represented in the media, it is presented to us in a way that makes us believe this is the way we must look to feel confident, popular, or accepted by society (Eisend, Moller 5). The problem with consuming everything the media offers is that it creates a dual self. Eisend and Moller argue that we have an inner conflict between our actual self, and our ideal self (Eisend, Moller 5). The ideas we have about how we construct our “ideal selves” act as a motivation for our behaviors and feelings (Eisend, Moller 5). Our ideal self is what we desire to be, often based on cultural influences. These ideals are usually unattainable, yet many people resort to extremes, such as anorexia, to achieve this ideal.
The media targets men and women body images differently. Women are targeted to go on diets that will allow you to achieve the ultimate slim body, while men are targeted for muscle building ads that will shape and tone you (Levitz 1). Representations of women in the media focus on slimness as the ultimate marker of femininity, whereas men are only powerful if they have muscle mass. What happens to those who do not look like the ad? This is where issues in self esteem and body image arise as we are taught that these are the models we should look like. Within these advertisements, there is no room for difference or celebration of bodies that do not comply with these norms. It is because of this lack of difference that both men and women feel the need to conform to the images they are faced with.

Identity Crisis
Beauty is a word which is defined differently by everyone. Although beauty is such a complex term, the media has tried to create a construction of what it means to be beautiful. A study that was conducted by Cavers et al. provides readers with an insight into how men think of beauty and body image. The results showed that most men thought of anorexia and body image troubles as only affecting women and girls (Cavers et al. 3). When asked about the development of anorexia in men, the response was that the men were mentally unstable and possessed women’s sensitive qualities (Cavers et al. 4). Another conclusion participants made was that the patient must be a homosexual in order to feel self conscious about their image (Cavers et al. 4). These stereotypes demonstrate the bias society has about the qualities men and women should possess. If we think about the implications these biases have on men struggling with body image, it is basically telling them they are less of a man for having these thoughts. NEDIC reports that many men experiencing anorexia nervosa have identity crisis as they are confused about what this implies for them as a man (In the News, NEDIC). Some of the questions men reported include if being anorexic made them a homosexual, or if they were somehow more sensitive than other men (In the News, NEDIC). We live in a society in which gender characteristics are packed into a neat box and anyone who does not comply with the characteristics of what it means to be a man is left outside the box. It is important to realize that just as much as advertisements affect women, they also affect men.

"True beauty is about self-confidence and self-love no matter what our size – I hope more of us learn to embrace this truth".

Meghan French (Personal Stories, NEDIC)

Health Implications

There are many reasons why the statistics of diagnosed anorexic men may not be accurate. One of the main reasons men do not come forward with their illness is because they feel it is not acceptable to be having these thoughts. As previously discussed, anorexia is mainly associated with women; therefore, many men may feel embarrassed or ashamed to come forward to seek help as it may make them seem less of a man. Another reason statistics may be skewed is because doctors are generally dismissive of men who come forward with their concerns (Feltman, Ferraro 4). Men are often diagnosed with depression or an irregular eating pattern before they are diagnosed with anorexia nervosa (Feltman, Ferraro 4). It is important to question why doctors are not taking these men’s concerns seriously. It could be because they too have accepted anorexia nervosa as a woman’s concern and comply with the ideologies of what it means to be a man. Another challenge men face is lack of funding for research and help services. NEDIC reports that although funding for research for male anorexia is on the rise, many centers for men have closed down because of lack of funding (In the News, NEDIC). At the same time, women’s facilities and treatments are expanding. Once again it is simple to see how stereotypes regarding men’s health affect not only their wellbeing, but also the resources and information that are available to them. A quote from an article on the BBC News website helps to illustrate some of the frustration about diagnosing male anorexic sufferers.

"The problem is that at least 90% of the people seen with eating disorders are women. Doctors and psychologists are not used to seeing men and may not pick up on the warning signs that they are suffering from an eating disorder.Men have different problems when it comes to eating disorders and the diagnosis can be more complicated. Instead of simply starving, they tend to over-exercise and cut down on the amount they eat.They may not look drawn and painfully thin like female sufferers, but instead appear muscular, but they are still suffering from the same eating disorder." (BBC News).

There are many other medicaal disorders that may be wrongly diagnosed to those who are really experiencing anorexia nervosa. This is because the symptoms are hard to concretely monitor and some symptoms of typical anorexia may be absent. These definitions are all from NEDIC and some possible alternative disorders include…
Body Dysmorphic Disorder
A person is preoccupied with a certain feature of their body that they feel is defective or ugly.
Disordered Eating
Disordered eating includes abnormal eating habits such as compulsive eating, skipping meals, restrained eating, irregular eating patterns.
Bulimia Nervosa
This disease is similar to anorexia nervosa except that a person will engage in eating large amounts of food but will purge and vomit right after.

Those who have been diagnosed, or have experienced anorexia nervosa face many future health complications. Some of these include long term depression, body fragility, osteoporosis, organ damage, cardiac arrest, brain damage, and death (Definitions, NEDIC).

The National Eating Disorder Clinic is a non-profit organization based on researching and providing resources for those who seek information on eating disorders. They provide workshops and information centers to educate the public about various eating disorders. If you or someone you know require assistance, here is the contact information for NEDIC.

ES 7-421, 200 Elizabeth Street,
Toronto, Ontario M5G 2C4
Telephone 416-340-4156 · Fax 416-340-4736
Toll-Free 1-866-NEDIC-20 (1-866-633-4220)
Email --

Help Information
If you know anyone that may be having trouble with their body image, it is important to be patient and offer a helping hand if needed. An environment needs to be established where the person feels a sense of comfort in which they are safe to confide in you.


"Anorexic Male Model." YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. August 14 2008. July 10 2011.

"BBC News | Health | Male Eating Disorders Go Untreated." BBC News, Aug 17 1999. July 1 2011.

Cavers, Debbie., Julie Hepworth, Chris McVittie. “Femininity, Mental Weakness, and Difference: Male Students Account for AnorexiaNervosa in

Men.” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, Vol 53, p413-418 (Sept 2005). Sociological Abstracts. July 3 2011.

Cordero, Elizabeth D., Louise Ousley, Sabina White. “Eating Disorders and body image of undergraduate men”. Journal of American College

Health, Vol 56:6 p617-625 (June 2008). Expanded Academic ASAP. June 30 2011.

Eisend, Martin, Jana Moller. “The Influence of TV Viewing on Consumers' Body Images and Related Consumption Behavior”. Marketing Letters,

Vol 18:1, p101-116 (June 2007). JSTOR. July 3 2011.

Feltman, Kathryn A., Richard F. Ferraro. “Preliminary data on risk factors and disordered eating in male college students”. Current Psychology, Vol

30:2, p194-202 (June 2011). JSTOR. July 2 2011.

Halperin, Edward N. "The Role of Socialization in Male Anorexia Nervosa: Two Cases." Child Psychiatry and Human Development. Vol. 26.3,

p159-168 (1995). Sociological Abstracts. July 2 2011.

Levitz, Stephanie. Pursuit of the perfect male. What Magazine, Vol 46:3 (June 2002). June 30


National Eating Disorder Information Centre. July 2 2011,r:17,s:0&tx=109&ty=95. July 10 2011.,r:22,s:0&biw=1280&bih=619. July 10 2011.