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What are the Causes of Anorexia in Men?

By Tara Barnett
Updated May 17, 2024
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Anorexia in men is much less common than anorexia in women, but it is just as serious a problem. A common misconception about this disorder is that it occurs primarily in homosexuals, but this is widely considered untrue. It is more likely to see anorexia in groups of men who value thinness over bulkiness, but otherwise anorexia has no cause based in sexual orientation. Like all other manifestations of anorexia, anorexia in men is caused by any number of emotional or experiential factors, but it is often related to a specific discrepancy between reality and body image as well as a need for control that is evident in many other areas of a man's life.

One of the major causes of anorexia in men is family environment. It is possible that a predisposition to eating disorders can be genetic, although the much more likely explanation involves being around other people who obsessively talk about and think about what they eat. So-called fat talk, either by adult men or women, can promote an extremely unhealthy attitude toward a man's body, even when the talk is not directed at the man.

Another common cause of anorexia in men is participation in sports that involve control over one's body weight. This can be part of getting into different weight classes or merely just staying skinny enough to participate. When the control necessary to achieve a specific sports-related goal becomes a part of a man's way of functioning more regularly, the obsession with control over weight can manifest itself as anorexia.

People who are dissatisfied with their bodies are often more open to anorexia, but men often respond to dissatisfaction with obsessive exercise rather than starvation. Anorexia in men is dependent on the man's ideal body type being a thin and emaciated look rather than the toned standard common in many areas. As such, it is more common to see anorexia in men in communities where being thin and male is venerated, such as modeling or ballet communities.

In a more general sense, the cause of anorexia in men is always a lack of reasonable control over negative behavior. The pursuit of perceived perfection through control over eating simply goes too far in a person with anorexia until the person can no longer perceive his original goal and instead seeks only to become thinner until he dies. One of the major problems with anorexia is that it is a disease that is considered feminine by society, making it exceedingly difficult for men to seek treatment. A man with anorexia, though, is just as likely to die from the disorder as a woman, and treatment should be obtained immediately.

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Discussion Comments
By Gorillax — On Nov 27, 2014

What can parents do to prevent their sons from developing body image issues and eating disorders? Because boys and men who develop anorexia and other eating disorders often present with atypical symptoms, anorexia can be misdiagnosed. My nephew has an interest in wrestling, but I worry that too much focus on "making weight" could lead him down the wrong path.

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