As recently as a decade ago, clinicians believed that only 5 percent of anorexics were male. Current estimates suggest it’s closer to 20 percent and rising fast: More men are getting ill, and more are being diagnosed. (One well-regarded Canadian study puts the number at 30 percent.) It’s unclear why, but certainly twenty years of lean, muscular male physiques in advertising, movies, sports, and of course, magazines like GQ—from Marky Mark to Brad Pitt to David Beckham—have changed the way both men and women regard the male body. And thanks to the web, those images are easy to seek out and collect. For American men, the chiseled six-pack has become the fetishized equivalent of bigger breasts. Like all fetish objects, it stands for something deeply desired: social acceptance, the love of a parent or partner, happiness.
But many afflicted men feel too stigmatized to go to a doctor—and many doctors don’t recognize the early, ambiguous symptoms. “It is not what a primary-care physician will consider at first glance,” says Mark Warren, founder of the Cleveland Center for Eating Disorders. “Often it won’t be what they consider at fourth or fifth glance.”
Diagnosis is hard. Finding treatment is even harder. Many residential centers don’t admit men, out of a belief that treatment should be sex-specific. There is no data to support this belief, though clinicians think that certain gender-specific issues are best addressed in therapy or in single-sex groups within a larger coed facility. Some centers prefer not to treat men, because they may inadvertently remind female clients of the trauma they have endured at the hands of abusive fathers, husbands, or lovers. Of the fifty-eight residential treatment centers listed in the Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness’s 2011-12 guide, only twenty-five admit men. “Most men with eating disorders are living with them quietly and painfully,” says Warren. “I would guess at least three-quarters of them don’t get any treatment. They’re suffering without help.”
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