The widely held belief that only women experience eating disorders often stands in the way of men with these conditions from getting treatment, a new British study says.
"Men with eating disorders are underdiagnosed, undertreated and under-researched," write a team led by Ulla Raisanen at the University of Oxford.
Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia and binge eating.
Slow to recognise symptoms
The researchers interviewed 29 women and 10 men, aged 16 to 25, who had been diagnosed with eating disorders. The men said it took them a long time to realise that they even had the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder. Those warning signs included obsessive calorie counting, exercise and weighing, and going days without eating.
One of the main reasons why it took the men so long to understand that they had an eating disorder was the belief that only women developed such problem. None of the men was aware of the symptoms as an eating disorder, and their family, friends and others around them were also slow to recognise the symptoms.
It was only when they suffered a crisis or required emergency medical help that they realised they had an eating disorder, the men said.
Read: When it comes to eating disorders, not only women are affected...
Negative health care experiences
The men often said they were slow to seek help because they didn't know where to go or they feared they wouldn't be taken seriously by medical professionals. In addition, there was a lack of information about eating disorders that was specifically targeted at men.
In some cases, the men had negative health care experiences, including being misdiagnosed or having long waits to see a specialist. One patient said a doctor told him "to man up", according to the study published in the online journal BMJ Open.
"Our findings suggest that men may experience particular problems in recognizing that they may have an eating disorder as a result of the continuing cultural construction of eating disorders as uniquely or predominantly a female problem," they added.
This belief is also widespread among medical professionals, according to the researchers.
Eating Disorders: not only for women
Young men also have eating disorders