Why We Need to Talk About Male* Eating Disorders (Guest Post by Molly Fennig)

*Individuals who identify as male

As an athlete who had trouble recognizing her eating disorder, I (Rachael Steil) can only imagine how tough it can be for men who struggle with eating disorders to identify what they’re going through and get the help they deserve. Molly Fennig, author of Starvation (a novel about a guy struggling with an eating disorder), shares more about male eating disorder misconceptions here.

1. They’re more prevalent than you think.

Depending on the study, up to 40% of individuals with eating disorders are male.

In fact, up to 19% of male athletes have an eating disorder (Bratland-Sanda & Sundgot-Borgen, 2012). Unsurprisingly, sports that promote leanness, either through weight classes (ie wrestling) or increased efficiency (ie distance running) have higher rates of eating disorders.

2. Men are less likely to seek healthcare in general (Galdas et al., 2005), nonetheless help for their eating disorders (Griffiths et al., 2015). Even when they do, it’s more likely to be from peers (Jacobs et al., 2017). Thus, raising awareness is crucial to ensure that men can get the help they need.

3. Most male eating disorders aren’t societally recognized, making it even harder to get help. Some of this stems from more female-centric diagnostic criteria (ie based on desire for thinness rather than drive for muscularity), research being done more on men (especially because those in clinical and research settings tend to be females, per the lower health-seeking behavior). Moreover, these two issues exacerbate each other as diagnostic criteria is based on research, and most research is done on diagnostic categories.

Also, while men can have more “stereotypical” eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, they also tend to have those that are less commonly recognized, both by society and providers.

3a. Orthorexia
An unhealthy obsession with “healthy” eating that revolves around the quality of food rather than the quantity.

3b. Intermittent fasting
Not an eating disorder, but definitely disordered eating. Intermittent fasting consists of multiple hours of fasting throughout the day. This is problematic because it disconnects individuals from hunger cues, can easily become more severe restricting, and disguises itself as health behavior.

3c. Bigorexia/muscle dysmorphia
While excessive exercise is regularly recognized as part of many eating disorders, discussions around body dysmorphia typically focus on thinness rather than muscle dysmorphia. Part of this is likely due to fatphobic societal ideals.

4. Helping male eating disorders will help others

If the above weren’t enough, increased awareness will allow individuals of all genders to know they need treatment and actually seek it, decrease stigma, and improve treatment.

Think you’re someone who needs help? Need something besides a crisis line?

  • Warmlines are a great way to talk to peer counselors (those who have had mental illnesses who are trained in counseling). Most allow you to call once per day: https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/BlogImageArchive/2020/NAMI-National-HelpLine-WarmLine-Directory-3-11-20.pdf
  • Support groups are another great tool. They can be disorder specific and some are virtual. Mental illness can be especially devastating when it creates feelings of isolation, so having the support of others going through similar things can be powerful. You can find ones close to you at nami.org.
  • If you don’t have a therapist yet and are even slightly considering getting one, I urge you to. Part of their job is to determine if you need therapy, and most people can benefit. Sites like psychololgytoday.com and your insurance provider’s website allow you to search for therapists near you, by specialty and insurance. Uninsured? Lower income? Filter therapists by those who do “sliding scale” prices.

I wrote my Young Adult novel, Starvation, to spread awareness about male eating disorders, especially in sports like wrestling. You can learn more about it on my website, mollyfennig.com, or on Amazon. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter for $3 off a signed copy, and feel free to reach out with any questions or comments.


About Molly Fennig
Molly Fennig is a Minnesota native who has published in The Blue Route Literary Magazine, The Blue Nib, other literary presses, two short story anthologies, and multiple scientific journals. Molly is pursuing her PhD in clinical psychology at Washington University in St. Louis with a specialization in eating disorders. Her YA novel on the subject, Starvation, won a 2021 Independent Press Award. Outside of her passion for writing and mental health, Molly enjoys eating large quantities of chocolate and spending time with her mini goldendoodle, Peach. Find out more about Molly at her website (mollyfennig.com), on Twitter (@mollyfennig) or on Facebook (mollyfennigauthor).