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Male eating-disorder cases on the rise

May 11, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Eating disorders can affect both men and women. While men appear to be more comfortable with their weight, there is a rise in the number of cases of male eating disorders. "I did see people that suffered a lot of bullying especially in a sport like water polo," said Kyle Healy, a former UCLA water polo player. "I mean, you're in Speedos. You're basically in your underwear in front of everyone."

Healy yo-yoed between getting into slim, tip-top shape, then slacking during off-season.

Health experts say they're now seeing a rise in anorexic-type behavior in men, especially where low weight is a bonus, like for gymnasts, runners, wrestlers or swimmers.

"One of my friends that was a wrestler constantly struggled with that, and I know his dad did very well in college as a wrestler and pressured his son a lot," said Healy.

Athletes are also being pressured by coaches, according to clinical therapist Dr. Lyndsay Elliott.

"I mean coaches want to win, of course they want to win," she said.

Eating disorders can start early and they're often very hard to overcome. Elliott says the average length of recovery for a diagnosable eating disorder is seven years.

"I've seen it as young as 8 in my office and I've seen it, you know, well into adulthood," said Elliott.

While women tend to engage in bulimic behavior such as vomiting or laxative abuse, men tend to go for exercising compulsively so they can look lean, yet muscular.

"If their performance is improved, they're just going to keep at that behavior even though it's going to cost them on the long term," said Dr. Jonathan Cole, medical director at California Health and Longevity Institute.

Cole says over-exercising is often combined with steroids plus an eating disorder, a combination affecting every organ system in the body.

"You can literally see remodeling damage to the heart with disordered eating," said Cole.

This includes damage to the endocrine system, thyroid abnormalities, vitamin deficiences, skin abnormalities, hair loss, kidney insufficiency and bone loss, to name a few.

If you suspect eating issues, experts say watch for these signs:

  • What percentage of their meal are they eating at dinner?
  • What was the norm for them before and what are they doing now?
  • Are they exercising well beyond training?
  • Has their mood changed - Depression, anxiety, any drop in grades?

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