How to spot an eating disorder in your son
It should be no secret by now – both men and women of all ages can live with debilitating and potentially deadly eating disorders. The old myth that eating disorders are just a “girl problem” have been effectively proven false and experts believe at least a third of all people with eating disorders are men. However, that doesn’t mean all eating disorders are equal.
In fact, there are numerous differences in both how eating disorders present themselves in the different genders and how boys or men react to eating disorders. Most notably, boys often feel discouraged from talking about issues such as body image or mental health compared to girls.
This can come in the form of outright admonishment by parents or friends for opening up or more subtly in the form of societal pressure. Either way, the effect is the same. Boys, by and large, feel an intense stigma about openly talking about these issues or their own personal struggles.
Because of this stigma, boys and men also feel more isolated. This can be tied to a higher chance of developing an additional mental health problem such as depression or anxiety. Isolation can also increase the risk of suicide.
Boys and men with eating disorders also strive for different ideals of a perfect body. While women with eating disorders typically fetishize a thin body, men will idolize more muscular or perceivably “masculine” body.
This idealization of the muscular male form tends to contribute to extreme exercise or other methods to “bulk up” such as abusing supplements and protein shakes. Compulsive exercise is a common sign of eating disorders, but men are particularly likely to obsess with making sure they hit the gym to achieve their idea of a perfect body.
Thankfully, not everything is different when it comes to eating disorders in both men and women. If you notice your child is showing signs of extreme dieting, body image issues, or purging, there are a few immediate steps you can take to intervene:
- Speak frankly – The first step should always be an attempt at honest communication, but it is essential this happens in a calm, safe way. Ask questions and try to get an understanding of how they view their body and what their goals are for their weight.
- Consider changes in the home – It may also be helpful to assess how your family has been addressing issues of weight or body image. Does a large part of your daily life or conversation focus on exercise and body weight? It is important to strike a healthy balance that prioritizes health without focusing entirely on scales or muscle size.
- Seek help – Some parents struggle with feelings of shame or embarrassment when confronting the possibility of seeking help outside the family for mental health problems. Giving into these feelings and attempting to keep the problem “inside the family” only guarantees it will fester and get worse, leading to potentially deathly consequences. The most important thing you can do if you see red flags of an eating disorder is to seek the help of a professional, whether that be your primary care provider or an eating disorder specialist.
- Support your child – Learning how to support your son or daughter through an eating disorder can be a process, but providing support an acceptance are the only way to provide a safe environment for your child to recover. Some parents find it helpful to visit support groups that can help teach productive forms of support and how to approach a life-threatening mental illness in your child.
If your child is living with an eating disorder, give Brookhaven a call at (888) 298-4673. We can answer any questions you have and help you find the best treatment option for your family.