To what Extent are there Gender Differences in Eating Disorders

Subject: Mental Health
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 14
Word count: 3661
Topics: Eating Disorder, Food, Gender Identity, Sexism


Historically, health professionals and practitioners have always associated eating disorder with the female gender. However, it has been established that eating disorders are prevalent in both genders. Greenberg and Schoen (2008) argue that while eating disorders are synonymous with both genders, it is imperative to underscore that the males and females differ to a greater extent. Traditionally, males with eating disorders have been understudied, underreported and overlooked (Greenberg and Schoen, 2008). Most men are often faced with challenges to the extent that they cannot seek medical assistance or therapy due to their masculinity. Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that bulimia nervosa (BN) and anorexia nervosa (AN) are more common in the female gender than the males. This essay focuses on the extent of gender differences in eating disorders.

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Literature Review

Striegel-Moore et al. (2009) conducted a study to determine the prevalence of the eating disorder symptoms which included binge eating, body image as well as inappropriate compensatory behaviours. A sample of individuals from both genders between the ages of 18 and 35 was sampled for the study. The results indicated that out of the 3714 women and 1808 men who participated, the males were more likely to report tendencies of overeating as opposed to the women. Striegel-Moore et al. (2009) submit that Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa are more common in the female gender than the males. However, it is imperative to underscore that gender differences in eating disorder depends on a specific eating disorder symptoms under interrogation. For instance, women or girls are more likely to report cases of overweight than the men or boys. The study conducted by Striegel-Moore et al. (2009) is consistent with the other studies that have been conducted by other scholars that suggest that women are more likely to be affected with eating disorders than the men.

Eating disorder is a common phenomenon among both genders. However, the response and reaction to the disorders are often different. Raisanen and Hunt (2014) studied the experiences of both the men and women having eating disorders. Specifically, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa were the primary areas of focus. In their findings, Raisanen and Hunt (2014) established that eating disorders are predominantly a female challenge. The men have a tendency of failing to recognise their behaviours as the symptoms of eating disorder. The lack of awareness among men concerning eating disorders sometimes has far-reaching implications to the extent that treatment in most instances becomes a challenge. Raisanen and Hunt (2014) underscore that while eating disorders has increasingly become common among the men, predominant cultural constructions of eating disorders as a “female illness” imply that men often fail to recognise the symptoms until the disorder becomes less tractable to any health care intervention.

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There are problematic eating attitudes and behaviours in both young men and women. Today, eating disorders that include bulimia and anorexia nervosa are common among the males and females respectively. Lewinsohn et al. (2002) conducted a study conducted a study to compare the problematic eating disorders and attitudes in young men and women. The questionnaire had bulimia, drive for thinness, excessive exercise as well as body dissatisfaction. The results indicated that women had elevated scores except for excessive exercise. Conversely, the men had elevated scored for excessive exercises. Ideally, the study conducted by Lewinsohn et al. (2002) demonstrated that the women, unlike the men were more susceptible to the symptoms and behaviours that manifest as a consequence of eating disorders. However, the study also indicated that men do not seek help when confronted with tendencies of eating disorders. The women are more responsive to seeking treatment and therapy than the men (Lewinsohn et al. 2002).

To examine the extent of gender differences in eating disorders, Elgin and Pritchard (2006) conducted a study to establish the gender differentials in the prevalence of the eating disorder, risk factors and body dissatisfaction. Some of the issues under scrutiny included disordered eating behaviours, body dissatisfaction, influence of mass media and perfectionist tendencies. The findings indicated that the women had more symptoms of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction compared to the men (Elgin and Pritchard, 2006). For the women, self-esteem and mass media have certain correlations with body dissatisfaction. On the other hand, perfectionism and the mass media are related to body dissatisfaction for the men. As demonstrated by Elgin and Pritchard (2006), body dissatisfaction and eating disorders for men and women are different to the extent that the female gender is more susceptible to the symptoms of eating disorder.

Greenberg and Schoen (2008) argue that men with eating disorders are often overlooked compared to the females. Consequently, Greenberg and Schoen (2008) further argue that there are many similarities and differences between men and women who are confronted with eating disorders. Treatment of the males who suffer from eating disorders is often a challenge because of masculinity tendencies. While women are more likely to seek treatment and therapy when faced with eating disorders, the men are never comfortable. Masculinity affects the behaviour and attitudes of the men to seek assistance (Greenberg and Schoen, 2008). Generally, the men are less likely than the women to seek medical or psychological assistance in almost all the diagnostic categories. The inability or the challenges faced by the men to seek medical attention is based on the aspect of masculinity. The females are more likely to seek treatment as a consequence of dealing with body weight and image.

The social upbringing of men in the society does not allow them to be diagnosed. This is because men are prone to assumptions and the feeling of superiority (Akey, 2013). This, therefore, pushes them to live in denial until the problem is discovered by another person in the circle or when the victim seeks intervention because they cannot take it anymore. The most common disorder in men is said to be the Binge disorder (Moore, Bodrosian, & Wang, 2012). The male gender has a tendency of being in control and the dominant figures. This tendency controls the modes of eating, confidence and even sexual urge. Irregular feeding habits and disorders distort the sexual urge in both male and female genders (Bedei, 2017). There are instances when Anorexia Nervosa affects the way an individual is sexually attracted to another. Food is the nourishment of the mind and even the soul. The mind controls the feelings and therefore whenever there is a deficiency in the body, then the sexual urge gets lost (Pope & Hudson, 1986).

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The other problem that controls the way men seek intervention to eating disorders is a stigma in the society. A man with an eating disorder is considered weak and not a fully appropriate man. This is a problem that is hard to address since not many will come forward for help. It means that a victim will suffer in silence until the problem becomes severe to their health. Most of the people in this category resort to silent treatment or even suicide. Murphy (2010) argues that 41% of men with eating disorders are considered to be gay or bisexual. This is according to a research undertaken by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. This is because eating disorders are deemed to be ‘female illnesses’. The stigma surrounding this condition, therefore, leaves men helpless and affects the way that treatment is undertaken (Murphy, 2010).

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) in the US researched to determine the prevalence of eating disorders between the males and females. The organisation notes that most of the tests and studies are biased in the sense that they were specifically established for the women. The research indicates that there are gender differences when it comes to eating disorders. For instance, in the US, 20 million women and ten million men are more likely to suffer from a particular eating disorder in their lifetime. Specifically, the study reveals that men have 0.3% lifetime prevalence for anorexia nervosa, 0.5% for bulimia nervosa and 2% for the binge eating disorder (National Eating Disorders Association). The women are more likely susceptible to eating disorders than the men. However, Raevuoni (2014) indicates that the risk of mortality for the men is higher than that of females. Men with eating disorders often confronted with comorbid conditions such as excessive exercise, anxiety and depression. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) claims that eating disorders are stereotypical to the extent that it is seen more of a female problem as opposed to a male challenge. As demonstrated above, such stereotypical tendencies have affected the men because they find it difficult to seek medical help and attention when affected with eating disorders.

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There is an average age limit that controls the onset of eating disorders in males and females. Females experience eating disorders at an early stage of their life than their male counterparts. The female aggregate age of onset is 15-18. Luca (2015) argues that 25% of the gender that experiences eating disorders is the male gender. The male aggregate age of onset for eating disorders is 17-26 years (Luca, 2015). This, therefore, requires more health education to the individuals.

The female gender is sensitive to age and how the world perceives them according to age. There are women that find it offensive when asked about their age. The question tends to raise the alarm about how they look. This alarm enhances into the brain and the possible solution is normally to exercise or change the mode of eating (FOX, 1999). Eating is considered an important way of controlling body weight because eating can be controlled by an individual. People choose when to eat, what to eat and the quantity suitable for them. It is the reason that one feels in total control of the act and therefore works to achieve their inner self. The age of a female person raises alarms about the way they look, their behaviour, sexual attractions and even their intelligence level. Most cases a woman will answer the question “How old are you?” with doubt or “why?” It is like questioning her confidence in herself which she seems to have taken longer to build (Baer, 2015).

Fox (1999) argues that the body shape of a woman is her prime source of confidence and that is the same for the males. A muscled and huge man feels more confident than a thin one. A small physique in men is a sign of inferiority (Fox, 1999). It is believed that a way to gain huge physiques is through eating and the more you eat, the bigger you become (Fox, 1999). Therefore, males are bound to suffer from Bulimia Nervosa than their female counterparts (Fairburn & Harrison, 2003). It is also evident that some food supplements or selection of foods work to increase the body weight and hence an option to grow bigger and improve self-confidence.

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The urge to improve the body shape is triggered by a number of cycles. First the experience an individual has with the current body shape or weight. It means that there are people that have faced criticism or have been mishandled due to their body weight. Therefore, they become sensitive to the issue (Greene, 2018). The moment an individual with issues of body weight is about to meet other people, they think about the response and opinion of the others. Ideally, an individual will first judge himself or herself and that is when self-torturing begins. It often leads to low self-esteem.

Stress controls the eating patterns. Moore et al. (2012) submits that there are instances when an individual falls into denial and in the end, food becomes the only partner. People in this category suffer from Bulimia Nervosa because they cannot regulate their eating. They become overweight and obese (Moore et al., 2012). The other problem is that these individuals tend to choose a corrective measure that is normally easy for them. First, they will avoid other people, who seem judgmental towards them, then they will seek medicines which are a silent solution and when it fails, they tend to take their own lives through suicide.

Sharon (2015) argues that the female gender is at a greater risk of suffering from both food disorders. This is because when they discover that they are going underweight, then a mechanism kicks in on their minds. The mechanism can be defined as the panic mode. Panic mode is that the world will conceive them as being slender, it occurs through extreme unconscious dieting to ‘lose excess weight’, which is non-existent. The panic increases stress levels, and one of the biggest corrective measures to stress is eating (Sharon, 2015). This has been observed in many cases of stress. The disorder slowly develops into obesity or overweight individuals. Individuals get into these phases through behaviour change patterns. The whole cycle is controlled by the cognitive mind that tends to control an individual’s thinking and finally thinking directs an individual to make a decision which is then executed into a behaviour.

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The gender of a person determines how the individual responds to either excessive body weight or thinness. The female gender considers dealing with overweight situations by feeding on alternative foods that tend to control the body fat content (Karges, MS, & RDN, 2016). Their male counterparts consider dealing with overweight bodies by working out and exercising. Exercises can be conducted in the gym or even a morning and evening jogging session. The way individuals respond to remedying body weight determines their health status.

Resorting to supplements or diets to control the body weight is mainly a reserve of the female gender (Fairburn & Harrison, 2003). The method is less involving and hence not strenuous while the male considers gaining resilience through working out of the massive body weight. It means that the level of confidence between the two genders will vary. The person working out at the gym or through jogging acquires more cognitive as well as physical endurance. This improves their confidence. Looking good therefore becomes a motivating factor for them. While working out is strenuous, the results are always welcome. This is if an individual gains the muscle or the body physique progressively. It is through the step by step achievement that improves the mood of an individual and therefore motivates them to continue working.

Genes also tend to control the way that eating disorders are distributed in terms of gender, behaviour or even number of patients. It has not been determined which gene triggers the disease. However, but it has been studied to contribute in a way. Abrupt changes in the genes of an individual may affect the disease acquisition rate (Clinic, 2017). It can occur in a way that an individual’s body will require more food or less appetite for food. The gene controls the mind or in this instance, we call it the brain. The brain triggers the cognitive sense that affects behaviour. The cycle goes on in the following order, whenever there is a surge in the genes, where the body requires a constant supply of food, then the brain is triggered to alert the cognitive mind (Lavender, Young, & Anderson, 2010). It is in this sense that the mind reminds the person that he or she needs to eat hence behaviour change. Behaviour changes come from the need to eat regularly. Here there is the need for an individual to satisfy the needs of the body and if the individual is used to low intake of food, you find that the eating habits change from low to high.

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Transitions tend to affect the female gender and temper with their eating habits. Transitions such as new environments, jobs, places or even breakups affect the females more deeply than their male counterparts. There are instances when a break up happens, females tend to withdraw and therefore affect their eating habits either positively or negatively. Females are prone to anorexia and therefore enter into spells of lack of appetite (Asarian & Geary, 2013). This deteriorates their health and hence triggers anorexia. Females cannot adjust to situations of change quickly and therefore it affects their eating patterns. They tend to live in denial for long and therefore experiencing spells of the disease where they lack to eat. Emotional stress is one of the main causes of loss of appetite and hence leading the individual to suffer from anorexia (Asarian & Geary, 2013). Males tend to pick up quickly and hence appetite cannot be an issue with them.

Stoving et al. (2010) present a fundamental claim concerning gender differences in eating disorder. According to Stoving et al. (2010), eating disorders is not a common phenomenon in men. A collective majority of the studies have always focused on the specific gender results to the extent that most samples often exclude the men. The psychometric tools and the outcome criteria have primarily been validated by the females only. In a study conducted by Stoving et al. (2010) to examine eating disorders in men, it was determined that male fractions in anorexia nervosa (AN) was shorter for the men. The study reaffirmed that while eating disorders are common for both genders, the challenge is more prevalent among the women.

Eating disorders are critical psychiatric illnesses which have far-reaching implications for both the males and the females. In a study conducted by Kinasz et al. (2016), it was established that eating disorders are common in women with the sex ratio estimates running from 3:1 to 18:1. The study indicated that the clinical representation of people with eating disorders might differ based on gender. For instance, Kinasz et al. (2016) argue that the young men do not report severe eating disorder symptom pathology like the women. The study further notes that the men have a lower shape and weight concerns and are often engaged in over-activities than the females. As the young men seek larger bodies, the old males usually desire a leaner body. On the other hand, females consistently strive for thinner bodies. Young females who have eating disorder symptoms suffer more from anxiety and depression. Conversely, the males demonstrate higher levels of behavioural disorders.

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There are varied health defects that anorexia brings to both the female and male genders. Females can miss their menstrual cycles, while males can experience reduced testosterone (Asarian & Geary, 2013). These variations also affect the individuals in varied ways. For females, missing of periods is a trigger alarm that tends to trigger other factors. It implies that the stress level increases and this negatively impacts on the appetite and eating habits. Missing periods for a female revolves around pregnancy and when such a youth is sexually active, it points to worry. Stress levels increase and hence work negatively on the appetite of the individual.

There is a high tendency for loss of appetite that comes with substance abuse. Substance abuse can be triggered by smoking, alcohol intake or even injection of steroids in the body (NEDC, 2016). The rate of substance abuse differs with gender. The rate of substance abuse has been linked to the male gender (NEDC, 2016). Males have fewer restrictions when it comes to using drugs that include smoking and alcohol intake. It, therefore, means that the rate of males contracting anorexia is high due to vigorous substance abuse (NEDC, 2016). Females can be restricted to the use of drugs, especially in the days when they are pregnant. Expectant women are forbidden to use drugs during pregnancy (Franko & Walton, 1993). This is because they tend to avoid miscarriages as well as protect the health of the child. This, therefore, restricts them from using alcoholic substances and neither are they allowed to smoke. This helps them to maintain their appetite and hence keep a healthy eating habit. Substance abuse affects the appetite and also uses up body fat.

Sidor et al. (2015) conducted a study on the gender differences in the relationship between bulimia nervosa (BA) and anorexia nervosa (AN) symptoms with anxiety and depression. The study established that the extent of associations between depression, anxiety and eating disorder symptomatology was similar for both genders (adolescent boys and girls). The study by Sidor et al. (2015) is one of the studies that have demonstrated similarity in eating disorders between the females and males. The study proposes that it is imperative that appropriate measures are put in place to aid the adolescents to deal with the symptoms of eating disorders.

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The recommended medication is through the use of mood stabilizers, antipsychotics and antidepressants. The list of medication has to be put forward by the food and poisoning board of the country. A collective majority of the teenagers suffer from eating disorders due to a number of reasons that include ignorance, stigma and lack of information. Ignorance is triggered by the fact that eating disorders are not a serious disease or rather it is associated with females (EDV, 2015). Stigma explains why individuals experience diseases without treatment.


Epidemiological studies have indicated that bulimia nervosa (BN) and anorexia nervosa (AN) are more common in the female gender than the males. The essay has focused on the extent of gender differences in eating disorders. Traditionally, males with eating disorders have been understudied, underreported and overlooked. Most men are often faced with challenges to the extent that they cannot seek medical assistance or therapy due to their masculinity. However, it is imperative to underscore that both genders are affected by eating disorders. Females are easy to accept the problem and seek treatment while their male counterparts find it hard to adapt to the system and seek treatment. Anorexia is common with the female gender due to professional demands, fashion or popularity as well as self-confidence (Greene, 2018). Males are affected majorly by bulimia due to the nature of work done, peer pressure and even genes. It is, therefore, essential to address this issue with the type of magnitude it deserves. Regular awareness is important and should be done in various categories including schools and even television programs.

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