Even though we are taught that both men and women suffer from eating disorders and body image problems, those weight and body image issues often seem like solely women’s issues. Research has proven, time and time again, that they are not. According to National Eating Disorders Association, 10% of the people who report dealing with eating disorders are male.
It might seem like a relatively small number (even after you find out that the number means there are ten million men out there who have or are currently suffering), but that doesn’t mean that the problems plaguing men and boys are any less debilitating than those that plague women. In many cases, they might be even more severe since men are often taught that having any body issues at all–even mild ones–is a sign of weakness. Men who so much as admit caring about their appearance are often shamed for it. It’s no wonder they’d rather hide their diet and health issues than seek help for them.
What many people fail to realize is that men are fed messages that are just as damaging to their body image as women. While it’s true that the messages aimed at women seem to be more pervasive and intrinsically shaming than those aimed at men, nobody can argue that being told you need to look like Ryan Gosling or Channing Tatum can really mess with a guy’s head.
One of the problems, too, according to a fascinating article in Time Magazine, is that men (and the people who love them) don’t often recognize the signs of an eating disorder or body dysmorphic disorder for what they are. We are hyper vigilant about things like binge eating, skipping meals, and over zealously working out for women. But when men do it, we tend to explain it away as, “That guy really cares about how he looks. Good for him.”
How lonely it must be, then, for a man who has lost the battle of control over his diet and perception of his body. He hates the way he looks and the way he feels about himself. He fears that opening up about all of that hatred will cause others to look at him differently (or worse, agree with him and encourage him to go to even more extremes).
Does this sound familiar? “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart'” (1 Samuel 16:7).
There is also some talk in Scripture about treating your body as a temple, isn’t there? (See 1 Corinthians 6:19.)
The message here is that what’s on the outside (no matter what your brain tells you it looks like) is not what matters. It’s what is on the inside that counts. It’s important to make sure your inside is as healthy as possible. This may seem shallow. On the surface, it might scream, “So eat a sandwich already!”
What it really means, though, is that God wants you to be healthy, and–for you–that means working just as much on your brain as your muscles and nutrition. The brain often tells us lies about our body and looks. It’s important to find help and learn how to face down those lies for what they are. It means seeking mental and emotional health for your illness.
If you’re worried about being judged or that your masculinity will be called into question (which is normal, given our society’s insistence that body image issues are solely a female thing), there are places that specialize in treatment for eating disorders for men.
Finally, know that you can beat this. You can take back control of your body and your disorder. There’s no shame in asking for help. In fact, according to Matthew 11:28, it’s the best thing to do when you need relief: “[Jesus said] ‘Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.'”
Rachel Matthews is a freelance writer with a background in business who’s been relying on her entrepreneurial skill set since she was in high school.