Eating Disorders – Not Just a Girl Thing

National Eating Disorders Awareness WeekHey guys, who cares how much you can bench press, anyway?

Physical Education (P.E.) was a requirement in my high school. During my junior year I was a little upset that weight training was the only P.E. class that fit into my new schedule. Being rather scrawny, I was nervous that all the guys in the class would tease me. To my surprise, everyone felt as if there was something about their bodies that they could beef up, strengthen, or tighten up. Jocks, punks, and nerds alike all wanted six-packs and bigger pecs. One my happiest high school memories was when my P.E. coach and all my classmates cheered when I finally bench pressed 125% of my body weight (I doubt I can do that now).  These positive aspects aside, I also saw things that concerned me. One of my friends lifted for an hour before school, weight trained during school, ran 5+ miles after school, and did push-ups before bed. P.E. grades were based only on “improvement” (such as lifting more pounds, doing an extra pull-up) rather than effort. Everyday, classmates talked about protein powders, supplements, or the latest fitness regimen guaranteed to make your fat percentage plummet and your muscles explode out of your clothes. Some of you probably know guys like this, but if you don’t, I highly recommend checking out this short documentary “Shredded”.

None of my weight training buddies ever told another classmate (another guy that is) – “I think you might have an eating disorder”. Looking back, I’m sure some of my classmates could have been diagnosed as having one.

When people think about eating disorders, they usually think of girls and women who are willing to do anything to be thin. However, eating disorders CAN and DO occur in boys and men and have many serious effects on health and happiness. Young men with eating disorders may fly under the radar because they may be focused on muscularity and leanness instead of just thinness. In light of today’s obesity epidemic, lifting weights and regular, strenuous exercise could just be signs of a commitment to health and wellness. If you (or a guy you know) exercises primarily for appearance rather than fitness or health, you (or he) might be tempted to engage in risky behaviors to attain workout goals. Such thoughts and behaviors could put you or a friend at risk for a full-fledged eating disorder.

Other warning signs of a potential eating disorder in guys may include:

  • A strong desire for bigger and more toned muscles that continues to grow, even if you’ve met your previous goals
  • Overeating to increase body size OR restrictive dieting to control body size and shape (such as calorie restriction, eating all protein and no carbohydrates, etc.)
  • Using legal and/or illegal body-building supplements, (such as protein shakes, pro-hormones, creatine, and steroids)
  • Feeling guilty if you don’t exercise, or working out even when you’re sick, injured, or when it interferes with other commitments

Check out this link for more information about eating disorders in men and boys. If you are struggling with an eating disorder or know some else who is, talk about it! Tell a friend, a health professional, or an adult you can trust (but keep in mind that some adults, such as coaches, might not be the best ones to turn to). In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, forget about how much you can bench press! Do something active for the fun of it, not because you feel like you have to do it.

-Psychologist Jerel