Photograph: Don McPhee for the Guardian
Anorexia and bulimia are often thought of as female conditions, but according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence 11% of males suffer from an eating disorder.
The eating disorders charity Beat recognises that exact statistics are difficult to collate, but says that up to 25% of people affected by eating disorders are male. And according to NHS Digital, the number of adult men admitted to hospital with an eating disorder increased by 70% during the past six years – equal to the increase among women.
Dr Sandeep Ranote, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, and member of the faculty of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, says: “There’s still much more stigma around eating disorders in men. It’s seen as something that is an acceptable illness for girls, but not for boys. We are seeing more boys, but not as many as we should.”
Dr Darren Cutinha, a consultant psychiatrist at the child and adolescent eating disorders service at the Maudsley hospital, south London, believes there are two main issues with boys accessing treatment. “First they’re less likely to want to come forward,” he says. “They may think people will question their masculinity, or not believe that men can get eating disorders. The second barrier is professionals not recognising that men can have an eating disorder.”
Dr Cutinha says nobody can be sure what causes an eating disorder and there is usually an interplay between genetic and environmental factors. “More commonly for boys, anorexia can be triggered when they are trying to get fitter or stronger,” he says. “They might want to exercise more, think about their nutrition and eat in a healthy way. But it can get out of hand and lead to anorexia if they have that predisposition.”
Beat says that full recovery from an eating disorder is possible, but the sooner someone gets treatment, the better. Dr Ranote says: “Mental health is finally being taken seriously. We have treatment, people can get better. They need to know that they’re not alone.”
‘I saw a lot of blogs about females and eating disorders, but nothing pointed to males’
Priyesh Vyas, 25, from Kent, looks back on the years he suffered with bulimia and explains how guilt and secrecy defined his battle with the condition
I was bulimic between the ages of 15 and 18. I had a relapse at 21 as well. It was probably down to more than one factor, but exam stress and social media pressure didn’t help.
Men have more pressure in looking a certain way in this day and age. I can’t pinpoint an exact time when it started; it was a gradual thing. There would be times when I’d be at school, eat lunch and purge it out in the toilets without anyone knowing.
It’s such a secretive eating disorder. No one can physically see it because your weight fluctuates so much. People just can’t tell. I would often have balanced meals – not junk food or anything bad – but I’d feel guilty and purge it out. After eating a meal, I’d feel like I’d put on weight instantly – that I wouldn’t burn all the calories that I’d just consumed.
I was a keen cricketer and there would be instances when I’d be playing cricket and I’d be bulimic in the middle of a match. There would be points where I would go the whole day without being bulimic and days when I’d purge out all my meals – that’s the nature of the eating disorder.
No one knew until I was caught by a schoolteacher. The teacher had suspicions because I was going to the toilet so often. One time they found me after I had thrown up and told my parents. I felt embarrassed that my secret had suddenly been exposed.
I felt some guilt that what I was doing was definitely wrong. My family were shocked and didn’t know how to deal with it. Eating disorders are not openly talked about – most of my family members didn’t know I was going through it until recently.
I knew that what I was doing wasn’t correct and that it would eventually kill me. I had Googled what I was going through and I knew what bulimia was, but I didn’t have the confidence to come forward.
I saw a lot of blogs about females and eating disorders, but nothing pointed to males, so confidence in telling anyone was diminished. I felt it was something that only affected women. There is still stigma around men with eating disorders, but hopefully with people like myself campaigning, that can end.
I was lucky that I got help early – my parents took me to the GP who referred me to an outpatients clinic. Fitness has also been a big part of my recovery
When I was going through my eating disorder I felt lonely and that no one would understand me. I thought that the eating disorder would be a part of me until I was dead. I want to show others that it’s possible to recover.
Don’t be afraid to be judged – you’re not the only one going through it.