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CYC-Online 62 MARCH 2004 / BACK
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Anorexia Nervosa in males

Melissa Kardash

In today’s society many children and adolescents struggle with eating disorders. One of the most common eating disorder that they face is anorexia nervosa. For this reason, it has led me to acquire more information on this topic to educate myself before I proceed into the children's mental health field. The article that I felt to be most beneficial to me came from the Journal of Mental Health Counseling. Usually researchers and educators concentrate on the female populations who have eating disorders, but this article concentrates on males who may have anorexia nervosa. This paper includes a summary and analysis of the article, a comparison between the article and material presented in class, and my own personal thoughts on this subject.

Crosscope-Happel, Hutchins, Getz, and Hayes (2000) state that anorexia nervosa is a major disorder that in a period of a year can affect over one million males. Anorexia nervosa is often undiagnosed in males because of the misconception that only females experience this disorder.

Approximately five to ten percent of males report cases of anorexia nervosa, this number may be incorrect because males do not tend to report the disorder or they may be misdiagnosed. Although there has been numerous publications written on this subject there has been very little connection of the disorder to males.

These authors propose that unlike females, males form body images through participation in sports. From the time that males are born they are presented with a concept of being a man. Males are expected to provide for the family, be competitive, aggressive, courageous, and strong. Symptoms of anorexia nervosa tend to be the same as for female; each individual’s history must be look at to determine the onset of the disorder.

There are many different reasons that males develop an eating disorder. Crosscope-Happel et al (2000) suggest that there are three reasons for males to diet. The first reason a male may diet is because they have been overweight for a period of time. The second reason is that many males wish to achieve specific goals involving sports or to avoid a sport related injury that could be caused from excessive weight. Lastly, males may develop the disorder because they believe that dieting and exercising will allow them to become more masculine and more in control.

The authors have noted that there is a correlation between males who are homosexual or have gender-identity confusion with anorexia nervosa. About twenty one percent of males who have an eating disorder also are homosexual. As well, males who have anorexia nervosa tend to have a closer relationship with their mother and are more likely to experience bullying by peers due to their appearance.

There tend to be strong influences from society. Media promotes a certain physical image. There is a demand for the meso-morphic body shape, and this can be seen anywhere from Coca Cola commercials to underwear ads. Anorexia nervosa can also be influenced by cultural factors. As these factors change, the disorders also take on different characteristics. There has been an increase in weightlifting and going to the gym; this reinforces the need for a meso-morphic body shape.

Crosscope-Happel et al propose that there is a standard diagnosis for people who have eating disorders which is the amenorrhea, but currently there is not one for males. Males tend to have a decline in testosterone production, which decreases sexual desire and performance. It is most important when working with males who have anorexia nervosa to look at the onset of the disorder, but just like females the approach to treatment should be administered in similar ways through medical intervention, education, restoring weight, and psychotherapy.

Males tend to have common features that can be useful when diagnosing anorexia nervosa, state the authors. Some of these common features may include: dissatisfaction with their body image, excessive weight, excessive exercise, concerns about sexual orientation, social withdrawal, and other disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, conduct disorder, and feelings of low self-esteem.

This article had three major points about anorexia nervosa. One point made was the number of males reported to have this disorder. Reasons for developing the disorder and the symptoms that are typically displayed were also examined in this article.

I found it shocking that amongst anorexia cases only five to ten percent of the cases were that of males. When I look back at my experience in high school I can see where this low diagnosis may have come from; discussions and lectures about eating disorders only concentrated on the female population. After looking further into this statistic it does appear to be valid even though it is a shocking low amount of males.

The second area that this article concentrated on was the reasons why males develop eating disorders. I found it very interesting that the reasons for anorexia nervosa for males was different than for females. This point appears to be valid because society determines gender roles, for males to develop an eating disorder over sport activities and muscular body images did not seem out of the ordinary.

The last main point that the article emphasized was the types of symptoms displayed by males who have anorexia nervosa. All of these symptoms relate together; they all have to do with a poor self-image and low self-esteem. This appears to be valid in terms of my educational experience around anorexia nervosa.

When I compared the article and the material presented in class I found there to be many differences. The article was directed more at understanding anorexia nervosa amongst males, while the material presented in class concentrated on mostly the experiences of the disorder in females. The material presented in class generalized many of the eating disorders and expanded on the treatments of the disorder.

Some common traits in the article and in the material presented in class were the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder. Both sources state that most people who have eating disorders have a poor self-image. The sources also referred to people with eating disorders as having the need for perfectionism.

Overall I found it really difficult to compare the article and the material presented in class. This was due to the concentration on males in the article, and females in the classroom material. I felt that this article gave me more insight into eating disorders experienced by males. I feel that it is very important to recognize that males do experience the same problems relating to eating disorders as females. I feel that this issue for males and females will get worse unless children and adolescents are educated about this disorder. They should talk about eating disorders in schools to both males and females so that more males will come forward and receive the help that they may require.

Crosscope-Happel, C., Hutchins, D.E., Getz, H.G., Hayes, G.L. (2000). Male anorexia nervosa: A new focus. Journal of Mental Health Counselling, 22(4), 365-370.


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