Childrearing

Your Son Is More At Risk For An Eating Disorder Than Your Daughter, And You Probably Didn’t Even Notice

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shutterstock_79864006Eating disorders are a very sensitive topic for me since I struggled with a raging eating disorder for roughly a decade, starting at the age of 12. I was anorexic and bulimic, and it literally controlled my life. I was also really good at hiding it, so if I bring it up to old friends from high school today, they are often genuinely surprised to hear that I wasn’t just “naturally thin.”

Try “skeletally thin” and completely obsessed with everything that I did or didn’t put into my mouth, and you would have a more accurate description. Sometimes I feel so cliché talking about my eating disorder as a girl. Maybe it’s because eating disorders have become a popular stereotype among high school girls, and everyone knows someone who had one, or at least claimed to.

But what about the high school boys? I have to admit that one potential benefit I saw from having two sons was that I would never have to deal with extreme body image issues and eating disorders. It was a welcome relief for me, a woman that has conquered an eating disorder but still has moments of stress and weakness. I didn’t want to see this play out again in my own daughter.

But what about my sons? The more I thought about it, the more I realized how wrong I was. Boys can be just as susceptible to eating disorders. In many cases, they may never be diagnosed because no one is looking for them.

The National Eating Disorders Association calls it a silent epidemic:

  • 10 million males in the US will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder in their life.
  • 33% of adolescent males use unhealthy weight control behaviors.
  • Because of gender role conflict, males with eating disorders are less likely to seek help.
  • Up to 43% of men are dissatisfied with their bodies.

Many experts believe that eating disorders in males are “indistinguishable” from eating disorders in females. While numbers for women and girls may still be technically higher, I firmly believe that boys may be more at risk. No one is looking, and no one is offering help.

If you have sons, don’t pat yourself on the back by thinking that you’ve missed the eating disorder train—like I did. Eating disorders are complicated and damaging. If you feel out of control and anxious, it makes you feel like you are in a safe, albeit sick, place in your life. Sons deserve just as much support to create a healthy body image and avoid harmful weight loss practices.

(Image: Jaimie Duplass/Shutterstock)