Dear Miss Meghan,
I have a friend who pukes sometimes from working out too much. He also will make himself throw up if he had any alcohol that night, and twice I’ve heard him vomiting after he eats. My sister has bulimia, so I’m worried he might have an eating disorder, but I’ve never heard of a guy having one. How can I help him?
-Waiting for your weigh-in
First off, I’m glad that you wrote in. It can be difficult to notice eating disorders in men or women.
Thankfully, we have come a long way in symptom recognition for women who are struggling with body image and weight, and one can frequently find an article in Cosmo about eating disorders alongside the pop culture conversations about starlets who are “too thin” (yet sadly right next to that is an advertisement for the “best ways to shed ten pounds”).
However, we do not frequently engage in conversation around how eating disorder symptoms manifest in men.
We often see eating disorders manifest in male athletes, who need to be a certain weight or size to perform, such as in wrestling, racing cars, horse racing, or running.
However, an eating disorder can manifest in males who are not athletes as well.
Research reports that about 10 percent of all individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder are male, but also that males who fit the criteria for having an eating disorder are frequently not evaluated for those symptoms.
Therefore, it is much harder for males to get the help they need if they have an eating disorder.
Also, culturally we seem to be narrowing our definition of what a “real” man is, so we see men going to more extreme measures to fit into that typology.
If we follow Jersey Shore logic, you are not a real man if you don’t GTL every day (gym, tan, laundry for those non-Jersey Shore fans).
Any of the following may indicate presence of an eating disorder in men or women: excessive exercise, bingeing (excessive eating), purging (vomiting, using laxatives, diuretics or other means following eating), restriction (severe constraints of the amount of food eaten), inability to maintain less than 85 percent of expected weight based on age and height, or a pre-occupation with weight or body image.
Presence of any of these symptoms is a concern. The best approach to helping out your friend is to call him out.
Tell him that you are worried about some of his choices, and want to know if he is willing to speak to someone about it. If that does not work, talk to mutual friends and let them know you are worried.
The more people involved, the less he is able to hide his symptoms. Another option is to see if he can come into Counseling and Health Services to learn about the effects that repeated purging can have on his body, like his throat, stomach, and teeth and some of the mental health aspects.
I had a good friend in college who would purge after she went out drinking every time so that “she wouldn’t feel hung-over.”
While this may seem logical to the developing brain, in reality if you drink so much that you are hung-over, the solution that is safer for your body is to drink less alcohol and drink more water.
Sincerely eating my lunch while typing,