Gym culture linked to increase in men presenting with eating disorders

Last year men made up over a third of those seeking help from eating disorder charity

A rise in the number of men seeking support for eating disorders has been linked to a growing "gym and fitness culture", according to Bodywhys, the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland.

In 2015, only four men attended eating disorder support groups run by the organisation. This increased to 26 men in 2016, and again to 57 men last year.

Previously less than one in ten of those in support groups would be male, but last year men made up over a third of those seeking help, the organisation said. "There is a growing level of pressure we see in men to look a certain way, have a certain body type", which previously would be associated with young women, Harriet Parsons, head of training and development at Bodywhys, told The Irish Times.

“The perception that eating disorders only affect women and young girls is simply untrue. International research shows that risky and extreme food and diet behaviours have increased amongst men,” she said.


“Disordered eating”, associated with an increasing fitness culture included dieting and over exercising, she said. Young vulnerable men were particularly affected by the trend, she said.

Public campaigns to reduce the stigma around men seeking help for mental health issues was another factor behind the figures, Ms Parsons said. High profile campaigns encouraging men to avoid “suffering in silence” in recent years, had led to uptakes across mental health services, she said.

“The effects of all of that is being seen across services, men that are struggling are more likely to talk about it,” Ms Parsons said.

The Health Service Executive (HSE)provide treatment for those dealing with eating disorders. Bodywhys is funded by the HSE, and provides group support meetings, and run a helpline and email support service.

A third of those attending support meetings were under 25 years of age, according to the figures, laid out in the group’s 2017 annual report.

The number of middle-aged people with eating disorders who contacted the organisation’s helpline has also increased. In 2016, 17 per cent of people who called the helpline were aged between 36 and 55 years old, which rose to 43 per cent of callers last year.

Of those with an eating disorder who contacted the helpline, 72 per cent reported dealing with anorexia, followed by bulimia (19 per cent), and binge eating disorder (8 per cent). Half of the people who contacted the helpline last year reported having an eating disorder for more than 10 years.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times