Men With Diabetes Experience Disordered Eating Too
Sensitive Topic Warning: This article mentions disordered eating. Disordered eating is a serious condition with serious consequences. If you are struggling with any form of disordered eating, please contact your healthcare team or emergency services.
Popular culture may lead you to believe men don’t experience disordered eating, but this isn’t the case. Though women are statistically more likely to develop eating disorders than men, this pervasive belief results in men with eating disorders being overlooked in research, treatment and therapies.
Even though at least a quarter of people with anorexia or bulimia are men, they are often underrepresented in studies and trials involving eating disorder treatments and therapies.
Because of this lack of representation and understanding, stigmas surrounding men’s experiences with eating disorders persist.
People with diabetes are two and a half times more likely to experience an eating disorder than people without diabetes. Among men with type 1 diabetes, 16 percent have experienced disordered eating, yet few trials or treatments are tailored to them.
This misunderstanding makes discussing eating disorders and diabetes management all the more critical.
The need for more research on men
Research gaps are a two-fold problem. A failure to focus research on how eating disorders impact men can influence society’s perception. It may mislead people to believe that eating disorders don’t happen in men at all—but this is not the truth.
The problem is that a majority of today’s research on eating disorders—in people with diabetes and the general population—focuses on women. This skews results and leads to services and resources being tailored for women, which stymies the availability of evidence-based treatment for men and other groups.
Consequently, men are more likely to have their symptoms dismissed and have an eating disorder go undiagnosed, hampering the ability of healthcare professionals to treat them, and fueling popular misconceptions.
Research shows that a major barrier to eating disorder care for men is having a primary care provider who is inexperienced in treating their unique needs and circumstances.
According to one study on male-specific treatment plans, to help men with eating disorders effectively, primary care providers must:
- Develop awareness about eating disorders in men.
- Create “a judgment-free environment” to establish a trusting relationship.
- Emphasize “affirming emotional strengths, virtues and capacities” to reduce defensiveness resulting from gender biases and fear of emasculation.
Men with diabetes face some higher risks
Men with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder than men without diabetes. This is likely due to an increased focus on food intake and nutritional labels, which can drive obsessive behaviors.
A Swedish study found that young men with insulin-dependent diabetes had a higher “drive for thinness,” posing an increased risk of developing an eating disorder.
The warning signs of diabulimia in men
People with diabetes can develop any type of eating disorder, but diabulimia is a condition specific to people who use insulin to manage their diabetes. Diabulimia is a dangerous and life-threatening condition where a person limits their insulin to lose weight.
Diabulimia can lead to complications such as dehydration, diabetic ketoacidosis, high blood sugar levels and even coma or death. It can also contribute to long-term diabetes complications like retinopathy, nephropathy and neuropathy.
If you think a man in your life may be facing an eating disorder or is at risk of developing one, these are some common patterns and behaviors to watch for:
- Preoccupation with muscle-building, bulking up, or losing weight
- Extreme fear of gaining weight
- Counting calories, dieting, etc.
- Using anabolic steroids
- Exercising excessively
- Wearing baggy clothing to hide the body
- Muscle dysmorphia
- Body dysmorphia
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Depressive disorders
- Anxiety disorders
How to get support for disordered eating
If you recognize any of these symptoms or think you may have an eating disorder, you aren’t alone and there are many resources that can help.
- First, it’s important to know that treating an eating disorder while living with diabetes means that your treatment may look different. Reading food labels and counting carbs may not be right for you.
- Build a team to help you: The ideal care team might include a therapist, endocrinologist, diabetes educator, nutritionist and psychiatrist. Finding specialists who have experience working with patients with diabetes and eating disorders may be important to you. Family and friends will also be critical players in your support team.
- You have options. Getting help doesn’t only mean sitting in a room with a healthcare provider or therapist. Online therapy and support groups are also available and may feel more approachable.
Where to find more resources
We Are Diabetes is an organization dedicated to offering support for people who are living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) and an eating disorder. They offer referrals to endocrinologists and mental health providers, as well as free peer mentorship for eating disorder recovery.
National Eating Disorder Association also offers a wide range of support groups and forums.
There’s never any shame in seeking help. Having the support of peers and professionals can play a big role in helping you reach your goals. Remember: If you are a man going through an eating disorder, you are not alone or weak and your experiences are valid.