Despite the common assumption that only women are affected, eating disorders in boys account for one third of the epidemic. In fact, in the United States, eating disorders will impact upwards of 10 million boys and men at some point in their lives. At HPA/LiveWell in Albany, New York, we are striving to increase public awareness about eating disorders in boys and provide services to those who are struggling.
Signs Your Son May Be Struggling with An Eating Disorder
Eating disorders in boys can look different than they do in girls. The onset of eating disorders in boys is slightly younger than in girls. Additionally, boys with eating disorders are rarely diagnosed with a single eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia; instead, they often fall into the “other” category, which can include binge-eating. Boys with eating disorders are less likely to desire a thin physique (as is common in females) and tend to strive for a muscular build. Nonetheless, if you notice your son becoming more focused on his appearance, spending increased time at the gym, or cutting out major food groups, these could be warning signs of an eating disorder. Working out and eating healthfully are good things, but they should not become an obsession. Other possible signs of the presence of eating disorders in boys are:
- Expressing fear of weight gain.
- Distorted sense of body image (viewing themselves as “fat” when they are a healthy weight/underweight).
- Strange behaviors around food or during mealtimes.
- Wanting to eat alone more often (i.e. eating dinner in their room).
- Missing food.
How Parents Can Be Proactive in Eating Disorder Treatment
If you have a son with an eating disorder, getting him treatment is essential to his recovery and wellbeing. Contact a mental health professional or ask your primary care physician about treatment options for eating disorders in boys. The earlier treatment can begin, the better chances your child will be successful in recovery. It is also important to learn how parents can be proactive in eating disorder treatment. Your involvement in the process can have a significant impact on your child’s recovery process. Some great ways parents can support their child with an eating disorder include:
- Practice compassion for yourself and your child. Creating a gentle, loving environment is much more conducive to healing, even when the urge is to blame and shame.
- Use “I” statements when talking about the eating disorder with your child.
- Educate yourself on eating disorders. Learning about eating disorders can help you better relate to what your child might be going through.
- Participate in family therapy or other recommendations made by the treatment provider(s).
- Avoid comments about your child’s, your own, or anyone else’s body shape, size, or appearance.
- Seek your own support and explore your personal relationship with food, body image, etc.
- Encourage open communication. Boys often have a harder time speaking up about their struggles with food or body image. This could be due to the media portrayal of body dysmorphia and eating disorders being solely a female issue. Or your son might view opening up as “unmanly”. And while you cannot force your son to communicate with you, letting him know you are always there to listen could be helpful.
- Don’t become the food police. It is hard for some parents to let go of trying to control their child’s behavior around food. Yet, the more you try to control, the more your child is likely to push back and engage in his eating disorder behaviors.
- Trust the process. It is crucial parents believe in the treatment process and trust that recovery is While treatment will have its ups and downs (for both you and your child), modeling steadfast confidence for your child throughout the process is essential (especially in times of setback).
To find out more about eating disorders in boys, or to learn about the eating disorder treatment provided at HPA/LiveWell in Albany, New York, contact us at 518-218-1188.