A hidden problem: Shedding light on male eating disorders
Eating disorders are commonly associated with women, but research is shedding light on men's struggles with disorders including binge eating, bulimia and anorexia.
Recent studies suggest that 25 per cent of eating disorder cases occur in young boys and men, with rates of binge eating being about equal in both men and women.
After binge eating, bulimia nervosa is the most common eating disorder among men, followed by anorexia nervosa.
The health impact of eating disorders can include a loss in bone density, muscle weakness, kidney failure, memory loss and even death.
Jay Walker struggled for years with an eating disorder.
He said he first started dieting when he was in middle school, believing he was overweight. But it was once he started university and started living away from home that things really started to "spiral," he said.
"I got very heavy into exercise, which at first was sort of a means for me to stop dieting. And then that went from being really healthy to being way over the top," he told CTV's Canada AM.
Walker's weight eventually dropped to about 100 pounds, and it wasn't long before he knew he had to make a change.
"Eventually I found myself bingeing and purging and that was when I knew there was nothing healthy about those types of behaviours, and that was when I sought out help."
Deborah Berlin-Romalis, executive director of Sheena's Place -- a support centre for people suffering with eating disorders, said there is a wide spectrum of disorders, and any one individual may suffer from multiple illnesses.
Signs and symptoms of eating disorders are varied and not always mutually exclusive, she added.
"It's a complicated health issue. It's not simply about restricting or dieting or a diet gone bad. It's a serious mental illness that's quite complicated," she said.
She encourages people who think they may be struggling with a disorder to seek support from a professional who has experience working with eating disorder patients. "It's really important to get the right help," Berlin-Romalis said.
Sheena's Place will be launching a new program in February specifically designed to help men struggling from eating disorders.
According to the organization, men are less likely to seek out support for eating disorders because of social gender norms surrounding ideas of what it means to be "masculine" and "independent." As well, there is the belief that eating disorders are a female-only problem, which adds to the stigma of a man seeking help.
Walker said that while he was able to recognize his own illness early on, he believes that a lot of men don't understand that they have a problem until their condition becomes severe.
"I think for a lot of men it has to get to that extreme before they seek help," he said.
For more information on eating disorders and a list of available support resources visit the National Eating Disorder Information Centre.
Sheena’s Place is a recipient of the Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund. Bell Let’s Talk Day for 2015 is Jan. 28. CTV News is a division of Bell Media.