WOMEN
07/25/2013 05:23 pm ET Updated Dec 29, 2014

What You Need To Know About Men And Eating Disorders

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Eating disorders aren't just a "woman thing."

People of all gender identifications, ages, races and sexualities suffer from eating disorders and struggle with body image issues, but the majority of eating disorder research is conducted on young, white women.

In the past decade or so, there has been increasing importance placed on understanding the impact these issues have on men. Here are six things you should know:

1. Male eating disorders are on the rise -- or more men are becoming brave enough to seek help. A January 2013 study estimated that 10 to 15 percent of anorexia and bulimia sufferers are male. Data from Britain's NHS has shown a 66 percent increase in hospital admissions for male eating disorders over the last decade. It's unclear whether this signals a vast increase in men struggling with disordered eating, greater awareness of how and where to get help, or both.

2. Men are affected by images of celebrities' "perfect" bodies, too. "The Mask You Live In," a new documentary from Jennifer Siebel Newsom, explores the pressure society puts on young boys to look and act "like a man." Muscular, toned male bodies in the media are perhaps just as harmful as slim, pale female bodies.

3. Disordered eating in men may be linked to experiences of sexual harassment. A study released in May 2013 found that, among college-age participants, men who had experienced a high level of sexual harassment were more likely to purge or take laxatives than women who had gone through similar experiences.

4. Men who are critical about their bodies are less hopeful about finding a romantic relationship. According to an April 2013 study, the more often a male participant surveyed and judged his own body, the higher the level of body shame he experienced. In turn, men with a higher level of body shame were much less hopeful about their romantic prospects.

5. Treatment options are often tailored towards women -- which can deter men from seeking help. In December 2007, Sam Lansky shared his experiences as the first man at an all-female treatment facility with xoJane. Lansky wrote:

It hadn’t occurred to me that it would be difficult to find treatment for an eating disorder as a man -- after my extensive experience going to rehab, I had assumed, foolishly, that it would be as easy as all the other issues I had been treated for with varying degrees of success ... I am grateful that I was the first man to pass through the program. Grateful that I have carved out a place in history as a pioneer who was able to join that group of strong, scared, powerful women and lay bare my pain, too.

6. Men face unique challenges in explaining their illnesses to friends and family. "It's bad enough and hard enough for women to get help and be taken seriously, and men have to deal with an additional layer of stigma that supposedly challenges the way people see their masculinity and sexuality," eating disorder activist and blogger Matt Wetsel told The Huffington Post in August 2011.

These findings, and the personal stories of men with eating disorders, make a few things clear. We need more research on how these issues affect men, we need better support and treatment for men and boys, and we need to keep talking about our society's conceptions of masculinity -- and their potentially damaging effects.

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