The perception eating disorders exclusively affect females places various obstacles for men seeking help.
The role of gendered constructions of eating disorders in delayed help-seeking in men: a qualitative interview study
Objectives To understand how young men recognise eating disorder (ED) symptoms and decide to seek help, and to examine their experiences of initial contacts with primary care.
Design A qualitative interview study.
Setting Men from across the UK were interviewed as part of a study of 39 young men’s and women’s experiences of having an ED.
Participants 10 men aged 16–25 years with various EDs including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
Results The widespread perception of EDs as uniquely or predominantly a female problem led to an initial failure by young men to recognise their behaviours as symptoms of an ED. Many presented late in their illness trajectory when ED behaviours and symptoms were entrenched, and some felt that opportunities to recognise their illness had been missed because of others’ lack of awareness of EDs in men. In addition, the men discussed the lack of gender-appropriate information and resources for men with EDs as an additional impediment to making sense of their experiences, and some felt that health and other professionals had been slow to recognise their symptoms because they were men.
Conclusions Although increasingly common in young men, widespread cultural constructions of EDs as a ‘women’s illness’ mean that men may fail to recognise ED symptoms until disordered behaviours become entrenched and less tractable to intervention. Men also report that such perceptions can affect the reactions of their families and friends, as well as health and educational professionals. Primary care professionals are well placed to challenge inappropriate perceptions of EDs.