Starving to Be Thin Impacts Men, Too

"Manorexia" is a real problem for men despite what society might think.

Sure you’ve heard of women starving themselves to be thin. But what about men? A growing number of men and boys are being diagnosed with eating disorders.

Jerry of Sunnyvale, Calif., who asked that we not use his last name, was recently diagnosed, but he says he has suffered from anorexia since he was 17.

His battle started when he tried to shed pounds after the medication he was taking caused him to put on more than 50 pounds. Jerry lost that weight but then found he was obsessed with losing more.

"For five or seven days, I might just have some hot chocolate or chocolate milk during the day, pretty much no food, he said. He would go for days without any food, which caused him to frequently faint.

Still he remained committed to eating less than 600 calories and walking 10 miles a day.

"No matter how low my weight go there was always a number that was lower," Jerry said.

The disorder doesn’t just impact men. Doctors at Lucile Packard Children’s Center have treated boys as young as 9 years old.

"Males present more malnourished than their female counterparts," said Dr. Neville Golden, chief of Packard’s division of adolescent medicine. "I remember a young man who was 20 who only ate one orange a day for months."

He also says he has treated a boy who was 6 feet tall and weighed only 90 pounds.

"You can see a skeleton with muscle wasting in between the ribs," Golden said.

At his lowest weight, Jerry, who is 5 feet 11 inches tall, weighed 128 pounds. He says he tried to get help many times but doctors often told him he couldn’t have an eating disorder because he is a male and men don’t get eating disorders.

That’s a myth. Researchers estimate 10 percent of the 8 million people in the U.S. with eating disorders are males. 

Often the disorder begins as a desire to excel in a sport or become very healthy or fit, but then patients start to over exercise  and consume very little, Golden said.

Boys diagnosed with eating disorders are also more vulnerable to severe long-term health problems, including growth retardation and heart problems.

The warning signs of an eating disorder include someone who is  preoccupied with food, exercises excessively, shows dramatic weight loss and has difficulty sleeping, Golden said.

The doctor also says there is a high prevalence of bisexual and homosexual males who develop eating disorders. He says it is critical for boys and men to get help as soon as possible, which includes working with a dietitian, a medical doctor and therapist.

Jerry was finally able to get help at a clinic in Southern California. He is finally on the road to recovery.

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