Male Eating Disorders

Some male eating disorders are less common, but many eating disorders affect just as many males as females. Keep reading for stereotypes of males with eating disorders, signs of male eating disorders, and tips on how to help a male suffering from an eating disorder.

Though many people think of starving female models and ballerinas when they think of eating disorders, all eating disorders can also affect teenage males, and some are almost as common among male teens as females. This article explains more about male eating disorders among teens.

About 1 in 10 people with an eating disorder are male, and almost half of those with compulsive overeating or binge eating disorder are male. Also, males are just as likely as females to have body dysmorphic disorder, which means they have an overwhelming concern about some aspect of their appearance.

Eating disorders can affect straight, gay, and bisexual teens, though they seem to be more common in gay teens than heterosexual ones.

Male eating disorders are also more common in athletes due to the stereotypes they are trying to live up to and the focus of some sports on weight, such as wrestling, track, and horse racing.

Like females with eating disorders, male teens are often trying to achieve goals related to unrealistic or distorted body images. Unlike females, however, male teens usually don’t just want to be thin. Males usually want a lean, muscular body, and may use combinations of unhealthy eating habits to try to reach their goals. This means the type of eating disorder a teen boy has may not be clear cut, and it may be harder to recognize that he has a problem.

Signs that a teen male may have an eating disorder include:

  • He is constantly worried about how much he is eating or how much he weighs.
  • He exercises much more than normal, and gets agitated about taking breaks from exercising.
  • He doesn't eat around other people, or you never see him eat anything.
  • You think he is eating in secret, or find large stashes of food or food wrappers.
  • His weight changes, either becoming much thinner or much heavier.
  • You suspect he uses steroids or laxatives or vomits after eating.
  • He goes on fad diets or uses lots of weight-loss products.
  • He thinks he is too heavy even though he has become very thin.
  • He is very secretive or defensive about his eating habits.
  • He is getting in trouble at school, work, in relationships, or in athletics, or seems depressed or withdrawn.

Some of the symptoms can be signs of other problems, like financial problems or a mental illness, but talking to him to try to find out what's wrong is important. Also, teens who are struggling with other problems are more at risk for developing eating disorders, so it’s important for teens to get help if they need it.

How to help a male with an eating disorder:

  • Try to talk to the teen. Be very caring when you talk, and be aware that it may be especially hard for male teens to admit they have a problem since eating disorders are often associated with females. Encourage the teen to seek help. 
  • Don't compliment or criticize people based on eating habits, weight, physical appearance, or body shape or size. Instead, focus on personality traits or talents or features like a nice smile or eyes.
  • Don't suggest that it should be easy to cure an eating disorder, like that he just needs to eat more or less - he may have already tried to change his eating habits and cannot do so.
  • Encourage him to hang out with friends who are not preoccupied with weight, appearance, or body building.
  • Don't tolerate people making negative comments about male teens based on their appearance or size, especially with terms like "wimp" or "sissy".
  • Don't reinforce male stereotypes, like that men should be strong, athletic, able to fix cars, or not interested in dancing or cooking.
  • Help the teen learn to look critically at stereotypes and advertisements.
  • Encourage the teen to set goals that are not related to appearance.
  • Help the teen focus on the positive aspects of his body, like the things he is able to do.

Male teens with eating disorders may need help to overcome their problem, but most teens who seek help with eating disorders are able to overcome them.


Nemours, TeensHealth, "I think my friend may have an eating disorder. What should I do?" [online]
Kimberly Weisensee, Medill Reports, "Male eating diorders may be more common than we think" [online]
National Eating Disorders Association,"Strategies for Prevention and Early Intervention of Male Eating Disorders" and "Enhancing Male Body Image" [online]
Reuters Health, "Gay, bisexual teens at risk for eating disorders" [online]
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,, "Men's Health: Body Image Issues" [online]

Related Article: Warning Signs of Eating Disorders >>