Archive for Thursday, May 13, 2004

Researchers say more men suffering from eating disorders

May 13, 2004

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Intentional starvation, cookie binges, vomiting, hospitalization. The details were typical for an eating disorder.

But Jeff Everts might not seem like a typical sufferer.

In an era of diet fixation, chiseled underwear models and "a culture of muscularity," some researchers say eating problems among men are getting worse -- even as sufferers face a lingering stigma about having a "women's disorder."

"We're able to hide it much better," said Everts, a 43-year-old Albuquerque, N.M., resident recovering from anorexia and bulimia. "We don't talk about it, where women would."

Women are more likely to have eating disorders than men. But men can also suffer from bulimia, binge eating and, to a lesser extent, anorexia, according to researchers.

Leigh Cohn, co-author of "Making Weight," believes such disorders afflict about 2 percent of men versus 4 percent to 5 percent of women, and he is convinced the rate for men is on the rise. Other researchers have differing estimates, but there are no definitive studies.

"Men, in many cases, are unaware that they have an eating disorder," Cohn said. "For example, they may exercise obsessively and just think that's regular guy exercise behavior."

The root causes can be similar for men and women: genetics, low self-esteem, trauma and cultural influences.

And those perfect male images -- think muscle-bound movie heroes, magazine cover boys and shirtless rappers -- can be hard to ignore for men to ignore.

"I don't know what's on 'NYPD Blue' tonight," Cohn said, "but I'm assuming that we'll see some male skin, because we almost always do."

Everts said his disorder became evident in high school in the late '70s when he began eating less and exercising more to become a better athlete. The 5-foot-10 football player got all the way down to 96 pounds, a hospital room and eventually, a psychiatric ward.

"They just basically said, 'If you eat, you'll get out,"' he said. That triggered a new problem: binge eating. Everts eventually found help, though he still considers himself recovering. He now weighs around 134 pounds -- within the normal weight range for a man his height.

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