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Men ‘suffering in silence’ as figures show more than 300,000 have eating disorders

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Men ‘suffering in silence’ as figures show more than 300,000 have eating disorders

Men suffer in silence from eating disorders

Men suffer in silence from eating disorders (Image: Getty)

More than half of men with eating disorders are “suffering in silence”, having never received treatment, and a third have never sought it, shocking new figures reveal. Eating disorder charity Beat estimates that more than 300,000 men in the UK are affected and while treatable, recovery can become far more challenging the longer someone is unwell.

Beat’s chief executive, Andrew Radford said a continued lack of understanding and sometimes sympathy for men suffering from eating disorders remains a barrier for some who need help.

He said: “Eating disorders can be devastating, with anorexia having the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, so it’s vital to catch them at the first signs.

“Everyone deserves treatment, and we have to break the myths that mean that some men still aren’t aware there is treatment for them in the first place. 

“We shouldn’t learn about eating disorders only when we or a loved one become unwell, or just hear about them affecting one demographic.

“It’s completely possible to make a full recovery, and it’s deeply unfair that so many men haven’t been given a chance to recover sooner due to our society’s lack of understanding.”

Beat’s research was carried out for Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which starts today (Mon) and is the UK’s biggest-ever survey of men’s experiences with eating disorders.

Of the one in three men who said they had never tried to get treatment for their eating disorder, almost half weren’t aware that treatment was available at all.

This may be down to the fact that eating disorders are often stereotyped as an illness that affects only women and girls.

Sadly, as a result, Beat said that many respondents to its survey felt as if they didn’t deserve treatment.

One sufferer, who did not want to be named, said: “My workplace – a university – had a webpage on eating disorders which said that only teenage girls could be affected.”

Survey finds men feel a lack of understanding and sympathy

Survey finds men feel a lack of understanding and sympathy (Image: Getty)

Mr Radford said we must continue to address the ongoing gender bias around eating disorders so every man who is suffering feels comfortable getting help when they need it.

He added: “Men shouldn’t have to struggle in silence.

“Although there is still a lot of work to be done, society has made great strides in breaking the stigma around male mental health – now it’s time for eating disorders in men to be recognised and addressed.”

This week, Beat is campaigning to break the stigma surrounding male eating disorders, dispel harmful stereotypes and encourage men to reach out for help.   

Four in five respondents felt raising awareness would help more men get treatment sooner.

The charity has announced it is this week launching a new online support group, Osprey, to provide a safe space for men to explore their experiences of disordered eating.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “People with eating disorders can face stigma, which can stop them from reaching out for help and support.

“To support early identification, raising awareness and reducing the stigma associated with mental health conditions is paramount.”

The Government said it is “committed to improving eating disorder and mental health services” in the UK. It said it is investing almost £1bn in community mental health care for adults with severe mental illness, including eating disorders, by 2024.

If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s health, you can contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, 365 days a year at 0808 801 0677 or beateatingdisorders.org.uk.

Dave Chawner said he avoided help

Dave Chawner said he avoided help (Image: )

Eating disorder sufferer Dave Chawner said he avoided help for years because he “never felt ill enough” to do anything about it.

After reaching breaking point – feeling numb, not getting any enjoyment out of anything, unable to sleep, and constantly drained of energy – he reached out to his GP.

Despite feeling as if the “doctor would take one look at me, laugh, and tell me not to waste their time”, he was diagnosed as severely clinically anorexic.

Speaking to the Express, he said: “When I was 17, I got a role in a school play. I had to appear topless, so I decided to lose some weight. I couldn’t believe how many people were congratulating me on this. It made sense in my mind if they thought losing weight was ‘good’ then putting on weight must be bad.

“Then, I went to university and with UCAS applications, essay deadlines, exams, and coursework to deal with, restricting food and calories became something else to concentrate on, another focus and one I felt more in control of.

“I began buying books which listed the calories in different foods. In order to offset those calories, I then began exercising – swimming, running, weights, push-ups, sit-ups. 

Dave Chawner

Dave Chawner is trying to help others with a comedy (Image: )

“Slowly over time, these behaviours became more and more extreme. I became increasingly obsessed with losing weight, exercising more, and eating less. I felt that if I could control my weight, I’d be able to get a grip on everything else.

“I soon realised I had a problem, but I didn’t do anything about it because I never felt ill ‘enough’.

“I was worried, if I went to the doctor they’d take one look at me, laugh, and tell me to stop wasting their time.

“It took me years to seek help, and even then, I went to the doctors for depression. I started feeling numb, not getting any enjoyment out of anything, not being able to sleep, unable to concentrate, and constantly feeling drained of energy.

“Eventually, I was diagnosed by my GP as severely clinically anorexic and had to go through 2.5 years of treatment at The Maudsley Hospital in South London.”

Now, Mr Chawner is trying to help others with a comedy course he has set up aimed at people with mental health struggles to teach stand-up as a method of building communication, developing confidence, and nurturing connections with other people to combat loneliness.

He said it “literally provides a platform for them to stand up for themselves”.

Comment by Tom Quinn – Beat’s Director of External Affairs

It’s 2023 – time to put eating disorder stereotypes to bed In recent years, there’s been a huge push to get men talking about their mental health.

There’ve been some great strides – but in 2023, over 300,000 men all over the UK are still struggling to come to terms with having an eating disorder.

Talking about eating disorders openly is still uncommon. They’re illnesses surrounded by stigma and widely misunderstood. It can be even harder for men, who are up against the stereotype that eating disorders only affect women and girls.

In our recent survey of men with experience of an eating disorder, over half of those who responded hadn’t received treatment, and seven in 10 had never heard or read about another man becoming unwell.

Even more worrying: one in three men had never even tried to get treatment for their eating disorder. They didn’t know there was any treatment available. They didn’t realise they deserved help. And they were worried about what others might think.

This Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we want to change that.

So, we’re asking the UK public to get talking. You might have noticed a loved one doesn’t seem like themselves – that they’re getting obsessive about food or exercise, or that they seem withdrawn, anxious, or irritable.

Reach out and ask how they’re doing – it might be the invitation they need to share what’s on their mind.

If it’s yourself you’re worried about, speak to a loved one, and to your GP. Beat’s Helpline is also open every day for support if you’re not quite ready to take that step.

Eating disorders can be deadly. But they’re also treatable. Every day we hear from men who’ve recovered and who now live life free of their eating disorder.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of – the more people speak up, the closer we get to breaking the stigma for good.

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