It’s thought of as a condition that mainly affects teenage girls, but it seems more and more boys are developing eating disorders.
According to the Eating Disorders Association of New Zealand, about 10% of sufferers in this country are male, and evidence suggests that number may be increasing.
One American study has found 20% of teenage boys are “extremely concerned” about their weight, and in Britain it is estimated that one in every five people who has an eating disorder is male.
In the US, the term “manorexia” is being used to describe the growing problem. Professor Alison Field, who headed a study carried out by the Boston Children’s Hospital, says, “The results of our studies would suggest we need to be thinking more broadly about eating disorders and consider males as well.
“Clinicians may not be aware that some of their male patients are so preoccupied with their weight and shape, they are using unhealthy methods to achieve the physique they desire.”
She says boys are less inclined to indulge in the purging behaviour associated with bulimia, but more likely to take supplements that claim to help with weight-loss and muscle building.
Meanwhile, a British eating disorders expert says boys don’t tend to talk about diets or want to look emaciated – instead, they’ll talk about wanting to look fit.
“Underneath it is about being sensitive, having no perspective of when enough is enough, having low self-worth and being a perfectionist,” says Deanne Jade of the National Centre for Eating Disorders. “These things are part of the personality of someone who can get an eating disorder.”
• Suddenly becoming a very picky eater.
• Wanting to cut out a whole food group, such as carbohydrates.
• Showing an obsessive interest in exercise.
• Making excuses not to eat, and becoming secretive about how much they’re eating.
• Losing weight rapidly.
• Not wanting to be in situations where they have to eat in front of others.
• Suffering from physical problems, such as stomach pain and constipation.
• Showing signs of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and low self-esteem.
My teenage son is suddenly very interested in exercise and nutrition and wants to lose weight, even though he’s not especially big. Should I be worried?
When there is a serious childhood obesity problem, it is encouraging to see young people who realise the importance of being active and eating healthily.
However, it can become a problem if they’re obsessive.
Try to gauge his attitude towards food.
If he comes up with excuses for missing meals and spends hours working out, you may have cause for concern.
Take him to a nutritionist who can offer sensible advice.