Boys Have Eating Disorders Too: What To Do and What Not To Do if You Suspect Your Son Has an Unhealthy Relationship with Food
Nearly a third of people with an eating disorder are male. If this statistics surprises you it is because culturally we are taught that eating disorders only affect females. The truth of the matter is that anyone can struggle with an eating disorder but it may look different depending on the person. In this blog we’ll dive into what eating disorders are, what the signs of an adolescent eating disorder may look like for boys, and the best ways to support your child through it.
What Defines an Eating Disorder?
“Eating disorders are behavioral conditions characterized by severe and persistent disturbances in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions.” Eating disorders (ED’s) can be a very serious behavioral health concern affecting people not just physically but psychologically and socially. While ED’s most commonly develop the formative years of adolescence and young adulthood, they can occur at any age and with any gender. Similar in the obsession and compulsive action of an addiction, eating disorders often co-occur with substance abuse and mood disorders.
Signs of an Eating Disorder
Teenage eating disorders can manifest in a variety of ways but the four most common are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder. Signs of an ED may not always be so obvious in teenage boys as they may not fit the stereotype of someone with disordered eating. Common behavior and signs to be on the lookout for are:
1. Obsessive calorie counting or restrictive eating habits.
2. Excessive exercising, especially in relation to body image concerns.
3. Preoccupation with body weight or shape, expressed through negative comments or dissatisfaction with their appearance.
4. Hoarding or hiding food, or secretive eating behaviors.
5. Mood swings, irritability, or withdrawal from social activities.
6. Physical signs such as rapid weight loss, fatigue, dizziness, or fainting.
How To Support Your Son
Approach the situation with care, sensitivity and a place of love. Your son is sick and should be treated with the same compassion as any other person with an illness. Here are four steps to take:
- Educate Yourself: This blog is a great first step. Learn more about eating disorders in adolescent boys. What they are, why they happen, and how best to treat them. Males can be embarrassed and in denial about having an eating disorder. Coming to the conversation with knowledge about the topic may help them see the reality of their situation. It also shows them you care enough about their well-being to get informed.
- Open Communication: Create a safe and non-judgmental environment for your son to talk about his feelings and concerns. Assure him that there’s nothing to be ashamed about and this is an issue that lots of young men struggle with. This is a good chance to learn if there’s been any stressors or trauma that have occurred lately.
- Seek Professional Help: Eating disorders are a serious matter. They can have long-term negative physical effects. If you are feeling uncomfortable about how to proceed or concerned about your child's health and well-being, consult an eating disorder or mental health specialist as soon as possible. They can conduct an evaluation, provide a diagnosis, and recommend appropriate treatment options, which may include therapy, nutritional counseling, or medical intervention. Recovery from an eating disorder is possible with the right treatment.
- Be Patient and Supportive: Recovery from an eating disorder is much like any other behavioral health issue - it takes time and setbacks are common. Be patient with your son and offer him unconditional love and support throughout his journey to healing. There is no quick fix.
How Not to Support Your Son
It can be easy to cause more harm even when you’re trying to help. Avoid these behaviors to keep from exacerbating an already delicate situation.
- Don't Ignore the Problem: It can be tempting to hope this kind of problem will resolve itself with time. Chances are it will only get worse. You may also inadvertently be ignoring the problem because you don’t know it exists. Educate yourself on what eating disorders look like in teenage boys so you’ll be aware of the signs.
- Avoid Blame or Shame: Your son probably doesn’t want to have an eating disorder. ED’s are a complex mental health issue. Avoid assigning blame or shame over the issue. Instead let your son know he is loved, understood, and supported.
- Don't Focus Solely on Weight: While weight loss or changes in appearance may be concerning, focusing solely on these aspects can undermine the emotional and psychological factors driving the negative behavior. It also reinforces an obsession with body image and weight.
- Avoid Making Food a Battleground: Keep from setting strict dietary rules or restrictions on your son. This is just furthering eating disorder behavior. Instead, foster a healthy relationship with food by promoting balanced eating habits and modeling positive behaviors.
Adolescent boys and young men are not immune to eating disorders, and it's essential for parents to be vigilant and supportive if they suspect their son is struggling. Early intervention and a caring support system are key factors in overcoming eating disorders and restoring your son's health and well-being.
If you are concerned about your child’s relationship with food, call Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center today. Our family focused clinical team understands the struggles of teens and are here to help answer questions and offer resources and advice if appropriate. Call today.