Sunday, July 1, 2012

Bad Body Image - Not Just for Women Anymore

Since diving into Intuitive Eating and using it with clients, I've made an anecdotal observation that I'm not sure is correct but here goes: Intuitive Eating appeals to women much more than men.  Intuitive Eating is not gender-biased in any way but I've noticed this because in most cases, making peace with food forces you to deal with your emotions, something us men have trouble doing.

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 DisordersAn 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.  


  1. A group of students in one of my classes last semester did a digital story on reverse anorexia, which was a new term to me. I was impressed by the students' (male and female) concerns about the pressures on males to look a certain way and what some males were willing to do gain the bigger, more muscular body. Some of the other male students started to share their concerns about unrealistic expectations for the ideal male appearance. I think male and female students left class that day far more enlightened about body image issues than when they came into the classroom. I know I did.

  2. I hear this! I think it's true that men have been traditionally discouraged from investigating or even acknowledging their emotions. There's a lot of pressure on men to be perfect, which usually translates to having no "feminine" traits--like the softer emotions (anger is okay). It puts men in a tough spot to have to worry about their bodies secretly. The diet industry is now targeting men, which may alleviate some of the secrecy, but won't help health in the big picture. I wrote a blog entry about this, addressing the issue of shame for men:

  3. Lots of Good information in your post, I favorited your blog post so I can visit again in the future, Thanks.

  4. The society expects the man to be the superman yet he also has an emotional side. This is why men, who have eating disorders, will continue to suffer in silence. When a man's health is at stake the opinion of the society or media should not count at all. I also think that guys should strive to have a healthy, fit body rather than focus on becoming the ideal male that the society is glorifying. Thanks for a nice article.