But does that mean men are not struggling with losing weight, with improving their health or with body image issues? Obviously the answer is no to the first two but men's body issues is not necessarily a common topic.
Here are some statistics about male body image and eating disorder issues:
From the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders: An estimated 10-15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male. Men are less likely to seek treatment for eating disorders because of the perception that they are “woman’s diseases.”
From the National Eating Disorders Association: Approximately 10% of eating disordered individuals coming to the attention of mental health professionals are male (Wolf, 1991; Fairburn & Beglin, 1990). Boys are three times more likely than girls to be trying to gain weight (28% versus 9%). The cultural ideal for body shape for men versus women continues to favor slender women and athletic, V-shaped muscular men (Rosen & Gross, 1987).
If you do a Google image search on positive body images, most of the results are images of women. They are inspiring messages that I am happy to see, but there are relatively few that show any men. If you add the word "male" in the middle of the same search you find more randomness to the images that come up. But the few male-specific pictures that do come up are almost all "the ideal" image of a man: six pack abs and well defined muscles. There are no pictures of "curvy" guys holding up a positive statement about their love handles. There are no men standing in front of mirrors with "You Are Beautiful" written on it. I don't have a six pack nor well defined muscles and, like I'm sure many other people will understand, I've struggled with body issues. So where is our inspiration?
The difference between the search results is striking especially for me--since I know both as an individual and as a clinician--how strongly our body image affects our food choices. Perhaps the lack of awareness is the exact result of the problem that so often plagues us men; we don't like to share our feelings. Until we can begin to deal with our body issues and accept that making peace with food might mean sharing some of those emotions we have buried inside, we will never break the cycle.
Maybe our body issues are not the same as our female counterparts, but they are there. Maybe we don't care as much about being "thin" but we do care about being "bigger." How can we lift more, build more muscle, look more cut and which foods will help us get there? Just check out a Men's Fitness cover one day. Regardless of our goal, we have our own food rules and our own issues with food.
Intuitive Eating is not gender specific. Making peace with food has nothing to do with male or female. Listening to your body's hunger and fullness and respecting your body is a part of all of us. Although learning to share your emotions might come more naturally to women, it is not exclusive to them. Men have the capacity to share and can learn the benefit of guided support to help change how they think about food. So men, don't be afraid to pick up the phone, send me an email or pick up a copy of Intuitive Eating. It is a journey worth taking.