Workout supplements are sold almost everywhere. Buyers can find a number of protein powders and body-building snack bars and drinks in most major grocery stores. A quick online search can help consumers find even more high-powered supplements with sometimes questionable ingredients. Those determined customers can spend hours researching natural and man-made supplements and potions to help enhance body build and muscle, and have several types of questionable products shipped directly to their door.
But when does a desire to become more healthy turn into something a bit more dangerous, such as an eating disorder? Many people associate eating disorders with mental health conditions found in women. The truth is, however, men are just as susceptible to eating disorders and unhealthy body image as women are.
Statistics on Eating Disorders in Men
The National Eating Disorders Association reports that, historically, most assessment tests for eating disorders were designed for women only. Because eating disorders were once mistakenly considered a “woman’s problem,” many men have been afraid to seek treatment or report their concerns. Furthermore, the National Eating Disorders Association reports the following:
- Anorexia nervosa affects 0.3% of men, accounting for 25% of all individuals who have an anorexia diagnosis.
- Bulimia nervosa affects 0.5% of men, accounting for 25% of all individuals who have a bulimia diagnosis.
- Binge-eating disorder affects 2% of men, accounting for 36% of all individuals who have a binge-eating disorder diagnosis.¹
- Approximately ten million men in the United States will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime.²
- One study of university students found that as much as 3.6% of all males were suffering from some type of eating disorder, which meant that, for every three women who had eating disorder, one man suffered as well.³
- Men often enter into eating disorders with the goal of building muscle mass with highly visible bulk and little to no body fat. This physique is promoted by most exercise supplements.
- When men suffer from eating disorders, they have a higher chance of also struggling with co-occurring disorders such as a substance use disorder, anxiety, or depression. They may also struggle with the compulsion to exercise excessively.⁴
When the Use of Workout Supplements Becomes a Problem
Appearance and performance-enhancing drug (APEDs) make up a growing industry around the world. Legal APEDs, such as protein bars and powders, protein drinks, amino acids, glutamine, or creatine, are sold with the promise of producing muscle mass and leaner bodies at a rapid rate. These legal supplements are touted as safe, but many offer more than the daily recommendation of protein, even for dedicated fitness enthusiasts, especially if taken in excess. There is the possibility of too much of a good thing. In a healthy adult, too much protein intake can result in kidney stones, kidney failure, osteoporosis, and certain cancers.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is a widely-researched world of illegal workout supplements, including anabolic steroids. Many men who struggle with body image search online for alternatives to this illegal drug, and many businesses are willing to offer questionable mixtures that are designed to mimic or replace anabolic steroids.
These supplements become a problem if they exceed healthy levels of daily protein or contain ingredients that can cause illness, heart palpitations, or changes in metabolism. They may also become problematic if the individual who takes them becomes very anxious or unhappy without them. Finally, not all supplements are created equally. Some supplements have questionable ingredients, at best, and some of these supplements have been banned from professional athletic organizations because they pose a health hazard.
There are some simple questions that you may ask yourself to help determine if the use of supplements indicates an underlying body image issue or eating disorder, as identified in the following:
- Are you obsessed with thoughts about your body size or body image?
- Are you constantly monitoring or decreasing your daily caloric intake?
- Are you highly concerned about increasing the amount you exercise?
- Do you continue to work out despite negative consequences, such as heart palpitations, injuries, or dizzy spells?
- Do you feel anxious or panicked after eating foods that you believe are counterproductive to helping you achieve your body goals?
- Has exercise begun to interfere with your work or home life?
- Do you worry that you may be unattractive or unworthy of love if your body is not perfect?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it is a good idea to consider receiving an evaluation to determine whether or not you may be suffering from an eating disorder. Like many disorders, eating disorders can range in severity from mild to life-threatening. Suffering from any type of eating disorder will negatively impact the life of the individual who suffers and those who love him.
There are treatment options for eating disorders that are designed specifically for men and that address concerns that are unique to the male population. It is possible to have a healthy physique without having to suffer from performance or body image anxiety. With dedicated support and treatment, it is possible for individuals to look their best and feel their best, too.
Center for Hope of the Sierras offers a dedicated eating disorder treatment program for men. The dedicated staff at Center for Hope has worked with men from around the country, yet view each client as a unique individual. Through evidence-based treatment and top-notch nutrition, group support, and healthy counseling, Center for Hope has been helping men achieve the best versions of themselves since 2003.
- Hudson, J., Hiripi, E., Pope, H., & Kessler, R. (2007) “The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication.” Biological Psychiatry, 61, 348–358.
- Wade, T. D., Keski-Rahkonen A., & Hudson J. (2011).”Epidemiology of eating disorders.” In M. Tsuang and M. Tohen (Eds.), Textbook in Psychiatric Epidemiology (3rd ed.) (pp. 343-360). New York: Wiley.
- Eisenberg, D., Nicklett, E., Roeder, K., & Kirz, N. (2011) “Eating disorders Symptoms Among College Students: Prevalence, Persistence, Correlates, and Treatment-Seeking.” Journal of American College Health, 59-8, 700-707.
- Weltzin, T. Carlson, T., et al. (2014) “Treatment Issues and Outcomes for Males with Eating Disorders” in Cohn, Lemberg.
- National Eating Disorders Association. Research on Males and Eating Disorders. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/research-males-and-eating-disorders