Anorexia in Men

Anorexia nervosa is a severe, life-threatening disorder in which the individual refuses to maintain a minimally normal body weight, is intensely afraid of gaining weight, and exhibits a significant distortion in the perception of the shape or size of his body, as well as dissatisfaction with his body shape and size.

Although anorexia nervosa has been erroneously referred to as a “women’s disease,” it is the same psychiatric disorder, regardless of gender.  Men who have anorexia nervosa need not feel stigmatized based on their sex. Amongst both genders, predominantly young people develop eating disorders, however onset can occur at any age.

Behavioral Characteristics

  • ­Excessive dieting, fasting, restricted diet
  • Food rituals
  • ­Preoccupation with body building, weight lifting, or muscle toning
  • ­Compulsive exercise
  • ­Difficulty eating with others, lying about eating
  • ­Frequently weighing self
  • ­Preoccupation with food
  • ­Focus on certain body parts; e.g., buttocks, thighs, stomach
  • ­Disgust with body size or shape
  • ­Distortion of body size; i.e., feels fat even though others tell him he is already very thin

Emotional and Mental Characteristics

  • Intense fear of becoming fat or gaining weight
  • ­Depression
  • ­Social isolation
  • ­Strong need to be in control
  • ­Rigid, inflexible thinking, “all or nothing”
  • ­Decreased interest in sex or fears around sex
  • ­Possible conflict over gender identity or sexual orientation
  • ­Low sense of self worth — uses weight as a measure of worth
  • ­Difficulty expressing feelings
  • ­Perfectionistic — strives to be the neatest, thinnest, smartest, etc.
  • ­Difficulty thinking clearly or concentrating
  • ­Irritability, denial — believes others are overreacting to his low weight or caloric restriction
  • ­Insomnia

Physical Characteristics

  • ­Low body weight (15% or more below what is expected for age, height, activity level)
  • ­Lack of energy, fatigue
  • ­Muscular weakness
  • ­Decreased balance, unsteady gait
  • ­Lowered body temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate
  • ­Tingling in hands and feet
  • ­Thinning hair or hair loss
  • ­Lanugo (downy growth of body hair)
  • ­Heart arrhythmia
  • ­Lowered testosterone levels

Compiled by Tom Shiltz, MS, CADC III of Rogers Memorial Hospital, and updated by Leigh Cohn of Gürze Books in 2006. (Source: DSM-IV, American Psychiatric Association, 1994).

Permission granted for reprint by NEDA (