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Eating Disorders: Not Just for Women

They exercise for hours, devise rigid rituals surrounding food, obsessively monitor their weight and yearn to resemble the taut-bodied celebrities whose images grace magazine covers. But the models and actors this group typically emulates are not the skeletal Kate Moss or wispy Nicole Kidman but the chiseled muscularity of soccer superstar David Beckham and actor Daniel Craig, the latest screen incarnation of James Bond.

The reason: These eating disorder sufferers are male.

Long regarded as a women’s problem, the trio of serious eating disorders - the self-starvation of anorexia, the gorging and purging that characterize bulimia and the uncontrolled consumption of large amounts of food that is binge eating - are increasingly affecting males.

Last month, Harvard researchers reported the results of the first national study of eating disorders in a population of nearly 3,000 adults and found that 25 percent of those with anorexia or bulimia and 40 percent of binge eaters were men.

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The authors called the rate “surprisingly high” because earlier studies had estimated that males accounted for about 10 percent of the cases of bulimia and anorexia, which can be fatal. Binge eating is not officially recognized as a psychiatric disorder and is not considered life-threatening, but its prevalence among men surprised some eating disorders specialists.

Although disordered eating is well-known among teen-age girls and young women, experts say the problem among boys and young men is frequently overlooked by parents and coaches and under-treated by doctors. Males, they now believe, appear to be vulnerable to social pressures to achieve the perfect body similar to those that have long plagued women. But unlike the female ideal, which tends to focus on a “goal weight” or overall skinniness, men’s focus is nearly always on achieving “six-pack” abs.

“Men are more reluctant to admit losing control” about food, said James I. Hudson, lead author of the study, which estimated that about 9 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives. The research was published last month in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Stigma, Hudson added, remains a major barrier: Many men are loath to admit having a problem that is so strongly associated with women, fearing they will seem unmanly. Even if they do, they may have trouble finding treatment: Some eating disorder programs admit only women.

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And in sharp contrast to the parade of female celebrities who have publicly discussed their eating disorders, few well-known men have come forward.

The most notable exception is actor Dennis Quaid, who has talked about his battle with what he termed “manorexia,” for which he sought treatment. Quaid said his problem started when he lost 40 pounds to play Doc Holliday in the 1994 movie “Wyatt Earp.” Actor Billy Bob women’s problem, the trio of serious eating disorders - the self-starvation of anorexia, the gorging and purging that characterize resemble the taut-bodied celebrities whose images grace magazine covers. But the models and actors this group typically emulates are not the skeletal Kate Moss or wispy Nicole Kidman but the chiseled


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