How Can I Tell If My Son Has An Eating Disorder?

The issue of eating disorders is often discussed in the context of teenage girls. Schools and the wider media promote the vigilance of parents in watching what their daughters are eating and ensuring that they don’t succumb to the peer pressure  often experienced amongst teenage female peer groups to become too slim and for this to become a problematic mental health disorder. 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner and approximately 25% of elementary school girls are regularly on a diet to control their weight.

[1]: shocking figures and certainly facts of concern

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that need to be addressed. However what is much less widely reported is the rise of eating disorders amongst teenage boys in recent years. It is now suggested that as many as one in ten instances of eating disorders involve young men

[2] and according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), 10 million men in the United States will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

The Signs of Eating Disorders in Young Men

Recognising the signs of eating disorders in young men is often much more difficult than diagnosing the same disorders in young women. This is because in men eating disorders revolve less around solely restrictive diets and are often focused on sport and athletic performance. Research has found that many male eating disorders begin relatively innocently with the goal of reaching a certain weight in order to qualify for the right wrestling or swimming team. In some men this can quickly lead to what is being dubbed as “the Adonis complex”:

[3] a desire to have the perfect muscular frame that leads to eating a severely restricted diet in order to achieve it.

[4] So what exactly should you be looking for? The signs of an eating disorder in teenage boys or in young men can vary wildly from case to case but are likely to include; social withdrawal, a commitment to excessive exercise above and beyond any interest in exercise they have shown before and making frequent trips to the bathroom, particularly right after they have a meal or eat anything with the family.

If you’re not sure if your child may be suffering with an eating disorder then your first step should be to look for physical clues. These are likely to include extreme weight loss, an obsession with food portion size and an obsessive interest in what you are cooking or preparing for their evening meal so that they can calorie count.


You can also check their personal effects to see if they are hiding and using laxatives, diuretics, or enemas: all common tools used by both anorexics and bulimics to encourage extra weight loss. Finally, pay particular attention to the clothes your son is wearing: do his clothes look baggy? Is he choosing to wearing baggier clothes than he might normally to hide a much more slender physique? These are all key tell-tale signs of an eating disorder amongst young men.

Treatment For Male Eating Disorders

There is a tendency to both consider and dismiss eating disorders as being a feminine issue, but this can be very dangerous. In instances where young men are suffering with eating disorders this dismissal can emasculate them and leave them feeling ashamed of their mental health problem and reluctant to talk about it for fear of being perceived as being ‘unmanly’ or as suffering from a ‘women’s disease’. However no matter how strong a young man considers himself to be, if he is suffering with an eating disorder then he does need the help of a qualified medical professional. There are several different treatment options available to those suffering from an eating disorder.

(5)These include: In patient rehabilitation, medical intervention and family therapy. The treatment plan that is right for you and your son will depend on the severity of his illness. Remember that there is no shame in visiting your doctor and asking for help. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness in the United States right now, so the sooner you can get your son the professional help he needs, the better.

Additional Reading 

[1] “Get the facts on eating disorders”, National Eating Disorders Association

[2] “The rise of eating issues and disorders”, Kids Health

[3] “‘ Righteous eating’ and the shocking rise in men with food disorders like anorexia and bulimia, Manchester Evening News

[4] “Male body image and eating disorders: an increasing concern”, National Eating Disorders Information Center

[5] “Finding the best bulimia, anorexia and eating disorder treatment for men, Bulimia.com

This guest blog has been written by Helen Sanways and our thanks go to her for her contribution to our general knowledge of family life.  Be sure to leave a comment, like our Facebook page and come back soon.
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Does My Son Have An Eating Disorder?