Experts say male eating disorders need to be recognized.
In an era of health and wellness, one Olympian recently divulged a personal health struggle, shedding light on a darker topic that is rarely discussed publicly: male eating disorders. This month, Olympic diver Tom Daley, 27, shared with The Guardian that he struggled with anxiety, eating, body image, and would even make himself throw up. He touched on the mental health issue in his new autobiography, “Coming Up for Air.”
Daley became a world diving champion at 15 and won a gold medal in Tokyo this year. He shared that being involved in a swimming-related sport made him feel vulnerable.
“…Especially as a diver, you’re up on the diving board and you’re so naked, so visible, so it’s quite hard to be content with your body, because you always want to be better,” Daley told The Guardian.
He further goes on to say that he felt a lot of pressure in the sport, being told that he would need to lose weight to compete.
The gold medalist and LGBT advocate also admitted that he would go to dangerous extremes and shared that it’s difficult to discuss.
“I used to make myself throw up, in 2012. I weigh myself every day. I’ve had a very strange relationship with food and my body image. I guess it is a mild form of that. Men always seem to not have eating disorders, and it’s hard to talk about it. But I would consider myself to be someone that has very much struggled with body image, and eating, and feeling guilty and shameful of the things that I eat,” Daley said.
Kerry Heath, a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Eating Disorders Specialist, tells Athletech News that with Tom Daley coming forward, he is helping to break stigmas around male disordered eating.
“When celebrities and well-known athletes come forward about their struggles with eating disorders, it has the potential to be positive for those dealing with it themselves. This is especially true if these individuals encourage others to seek out treatment and pursue health,” Heath says.
She mentions that Tom Daley’s behaviors, and food-related guilt that are touched on in his autobiography can help others.
“This book and recent articles about his eating disorder can provide men with the courage to come out about their own struggles when they see a successful athlete who dealt with it as well,” said Heath. “It is encouraging to witness an international celebrity such as Tom Daley showing men that it is ok to talk about it and to measure their success in ways other than their appearance or their athletic performance. He has mentioned that he is working to get better for his son. He wants to be a good role-model for him. This is an important message for men to hear. “
Heath says that some of the causes of male eating disorders are unrealistic ideals of the male body, body image disturbances, and genetic predispositions. She says that men may believe that the male body must be muscular to be valued.
Ultimately, Heath says, society needs to destigmatize male eating disorders, so men feel comfortable sharing and getting the help they need.
“Normalizing the fact that men do suffer from eating disorders is important in making men feel better about coming forward about their struggles. Eating disorders are often considered to be a female condition which adds to the stigma surrounding men with these conditions. There are also stereotypes about eating disorders primarily impacting the homosexual male. This is another myth that needs to be dispelled as all men can and do suffer with eating disorders. The language in our society related to eating disorders needs to change,” Heath says.
She points out that there is even an issue when it comes to marketing treatment centers.
“Even in the professional world, advertisements for treatment centers and studies related to eating disorders tend to be female-focused. These biases can prevent males from feeling comfortable in seeking the care that they need,” Heath explains.
If a male is struggling with an eating disorder but wishes to keep it private, Heath advises that they can seek out other resources.
“Men can utilize self-help books and workbooks, online counselors and/or support groups, or meet with a registered dietitian,” Heath advises. She understands that men may not want to reveal their condition and says that they don’t have to share their struggles with family and friends unless they choose to do so.