Typically, it is women and female teens who are vulnerable to eating disorders. Females are at risk for developing teen eating disorders more so than men do because they tend to be more concerned with their appearances. In general, our society is obsessed with dieting, losing weight, and being thin, and women often exhibit this obsession more so than men.
However, more male teens are beginning to reveal their obsession towards looking good, staying thin, and having muscles. Over the years, there have been many cases of adolescent males with eating disorders. However, a recent study conducted by Boston Children’s Hospital indicated that male adolescents might be more at risk to eating disorders then previously thought. Researchers found that about 18% of male teens had extreme concerns about their weight and physique to the point that they were beginning to engage in risky behavior. Another survey done in 2012 interviewed over 2,800 middle and high school teens and found that two thirds of boys changed their eating habits to increase their muscle size and tone.
The roots of an eating disorder begin with a preoccupation to how you look, which influences your appetite, food choices, and food limitations. You might want to stay under 150 pounds, for instance, and so you don’t eat the chocolate cake for dessert or the extra pancake. Yet, when those preoccupations become obsessions, they can become a disturbance in the mind, which can, in turn, become a compulsion.
A compulsion is an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, especially against your own conscious wishes. It is defined by a loss of control where you find yourself spending large amounts of time engaging in eating-related activities to the point where you are neglecting social, academic, or family responsibilities. With eating disorders, it is not so much the appetite that is disturbed, as it is a teen’s control (Anorexia Nervosa) or lack of control (Bulimia Nervosa) over what they eat.
Eating disorders are serious diseases that aren’t a fad or a trend or a thing to do in order to lose weight. These are diseases that arise from a dysfunctional psychological condition with serious medical consequences. The problem that the research done at Boston Children’s Hospital reveals is the tendency for male adolescents to slip through the cracks in the medical field. Doctors and mental health professionals are more apt to think of female teens as having an eating disorder than males. When male teens discuss their desire to be thin with professionals, they are often overlooked.
A male adolescent might have an intense need to be thin and so severely limit his food intake. This is the case with those who suffer from Anorexia Nervosa, a mental illness of eating too little. Others might have no control over the amount of food they take in, such as in binge eating, and then feel guilty about it later. Bulimia is a disorder in which there is a period of binge eating and that is followed by vomiting.
You don’t hear about teen eating disorders too much in the media. It’s still not a topic that well discussed. Even though the discussion has improved immensely in the last 20 years, there is a long way to go in terms of giving these disorders the attention they deserve. Furthermore, the recent research on eating disorders and the prevalence among male teens indicates that there is more to address. Hopefully, as this psychological illness continues to be studied and researched, more information will come to light that allows healing the illness in both teens and adults.
Jaslow, R. (November 5, 2013). Eating Disorders in Male Teens May Be More Common Than Once Thought. CBS News. Retrieved on July 16, 2014 from: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/eating-disorders-in-male-teens-may-be-more-common-than-once-thought/
By Robert Hunt
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