“Men get this, men die from this,” says eating disorders doctor

NEDIC Director, Merryl Bear talks about the myths surrounding eating disorders, in partiular that it's only a girls' illness, in this Radio Canada International health column.  Read the full article here.

By Radio Canada International
Health Column, February 3, 2013

Men get eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia but are less likely than women to recognize it or seek treatment. That’s partly because they are seen as women’s illnesses. Since eating disorders can cause serious illness and even death, doctors and support groups in Canada are trying to raise awareness about the issue. RCI’s Lynn Desjardins reports.
“Eating disorders are much more common in men than were previously thought,”said  Dr. Blake Woodside, medical director of the Program for Eating Disorders at the Toronto General Hospital. “There are now three really good community-based studies showing that for anorexia nervosa, about one case in three is a man and for bulimia nervosa, about one in four. And this was surprising because…in my clinic for example it’s about one in 15 or one in 20.”

Why do so few men seek treatment? Dr. Woodside thinks the most important reason is that men don’t think of themselves as being at risk for an eating disorder. Neither do their families or even health professionals readily consider it.

“There are many myths around eating disorders,” according to Merryl Bear, executive director of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC). “And one of them is that it’s only a girls’ illness and that really is a problem because there are many demographics that experience eating disorders: men, individuals from different ethno-racial groups, etc.”

This misconception that only females get eating disorders is a serious problem “because anorexia nervosa is a lethal illness, it kills 15 to 20 per cent of its victims,” said Dr. Woodside. “So men with anorexia in particular desperately need to be identified and brought to treatment.”

While men may describe their situations differently from women, their triggers for eating disorders are pretty much the same, according to Dr. Woodside. “Somebody is troubled about something and decides to restrict their food intake as a way to deal with whatever is troubling them and if they have the wrong genetic potential and become chronic dieters that can activate their genetic potential to develop anorexia.”

Treatment for men and women is the same in Dr. Woodside’s clinic. There is another misconception that the treatment is only for women but that’s not true. “We take men into our treatment programs and that’s true pretty much all around the world and the men do fine.” Even if they are the only man in the group “…they accumulate 11 sisters automatically, the women are very interested in the male perspective, and the guys are very interested in the female perspectives and it works out really well,” said Dr. Woodside while urging men to not avoid seeking treatment.

“The most important thing is public awareness (of the fact) that men get this and men die from this just like women do. It’s a little less common in men for sure but men do get it and men and their families and health care professionals should have anorexia nervosa in their thoughts when a man starts losing a lot of weight.”

One danger sign is if a person is losing weight but is not happy. Ms. Bear urges them to use the NEDIC website to get more information about eating disorders and where they can get help.