Teenage Boys: The New Face Of Eating Disorders

For years, there has been talk about the negative influence of media, through movies and magazines, on the self-image of America's youth. Today our young people don't even need to go to a movie or buy a magazine to see "perfect" human bodies; all they have to do is open Instagram or Facebook to be besieged with posed, edited, filtered pictures of friends and celebrities. The pressure to have a beautiful body is stronger than ever before, but it is affecting more than just the stereotypical teenage girl. Teenage boys are now a very real presence in the world of eating disorders, and their numbers are quickly growing.

The stereotype

The stereotypical eating disorder patient is

  • Female

  • 12-25 years old

  • Upper or upper-middle class

She has a tendency toward rigid life structure and demanding personal goals. She is usually quite perfectionistic and has difficulty with change. Not a risk-taker, she is usually shy and thinks poorly of her body. Restricting food intake and/or purging big meals gives her a sense of control and peace, though these practices inevitably lead to distress and disease.

Changing perceptions

However, experts recently have begun amending their perspectives on this demographic group. While females do account for most eating disorder patients, male patients are becoming increasingly afflicted. It is estimated that 25% of those with anorexia and 36% of those with bulimia are males. Further, it appears the number of males with eating disorders is now growing faster than the number of females.

More complicated picture

However, experts are also finding that teenage boys who present to adolescent outpatient eating disorder treatment centers with anorexia or bulimia bring a complex set of psychological problems along. They are more likely to have a history of depression, suicidality, and substance abuse than girls who enter treatment for eating problems. They also tend to enter treatment at a later age than girls, and to have lost more weight prior to seeking help.

Multifaceted treatment approach

Because males are more likely to complete suicide than girls, their depression cannot go untreated in favor of a focus solely on their eating disorders. Counselors must dive in diligently to address all the psychiatric issues facing these young patients. Boys can attend an outpatient program that provides not only specialized eating disorder support, but also substance abuse recovery groups and individual therapy for depression. Antidepressant medication may provide boys with the energy and motivation to achieve treatment goals.

If you are the parent of a boy who has been exhibiting signs of an eating disorder, don't dismiss them as unlikely just because he's a guy. Make an appointment with a licensed therapist right away. Ensure that the counselor evaluates your son for substance abuse and depression as well, and especially for the presence of suicidal thinking. The counselor can refer you to either an inpatient or outpatient treatment program depending on your son's need.


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