THE BIG ISSUE
Tom Quinn, the director of external affairs at charity Beat, explains why it’s vital to get help as early as possible
To this day, I’ve never met a male with an eating disorder, says a man blogging about his illness for Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity. He makes an important addition: “Or not one who has opened up to me about it.”
It’s a common thread among stories from men on Beat’s website, of which there are dramatically fewer than contributions from women. Men with eating disorders – already isolating, stigmatised conditions – find an additional barrier to recognising that they’re ill, telling people that what they’re going through, and seeking and receiving treatment for, is considered a “women’s illness.”
But an estimated 25 per cent of sufferers are male, with evidence suggesting men who are part of the LGBT+ community are disproportionately affected. Research carried out by Stonewall in 2017 showed that one in eight LGBT+ people said he or she has suffered an eating disorder in the past year. For Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic ( BAME) queer people, the figure is more than one in five.
Eating disorders do not discriminate, but stereotypes do. The struggle men experience in voicing concerns can be amplified for gay or bisexual men, and they may face further discrimination.
Andy, 37, had binge- eating disorder.
“I wanted people to understand,” he says, “but they didn’t take my illness seriously. It took years to explain that I wasn’t just greedy and my problems were emotional.” People seem to think “gay men are all muscle or thin,” he adds.
A survey on public stereotypes surrounding eating disorders, carried out ahead of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which runs between 25 February and 3 March, found 37 per cent of gay or bisexual respondents would not feel confident seeking help, compared with 24 per cent of straight people. But eating disorders get worse the longer they go on, making it essential that those suffering get treatment at the earliest opportunity.
So, people must be able to recognise the signs. Eating disorders are mental illnesses, so mind set is as important as behaviour and physical symptoms.
Secrecy and self- consciousness around food, preoccupation with weight and shape, social withdrawal, mood swings, anxiety and low self- esteem are signs that someone might be struggling with an eating disorder. Some of the potential signs, such as excessive exercise and what appears to be dieting, are seen as signs of a healthy lifestyle.
But when dieting and exercise becomes obsessive, or when someone feels unable to deviate from their routine, there is more cause for concern.
There is help available. It’s best to speak to a GP who can refer you to a specialist but opening up to anyone is an important first step.
If someone you know seems to be struggling, letting them know that you’re concerned may help them on the path to recovery.
Beat’s support services, including free and confidential helplines, one- to- one web chat, and online support groups, are also useful for people who may not yet feel able to speak to someone they know.
Most essential to remember is that anyone can suffer an eating disorder. Gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age — no aspect of identity guarantees someone will be immune. And anyone who has an eating disorder deserves help and support to get better. For information and support, visit beat eating disorders. org.uk or call 0808 801 0677
“No aspect of identity guarantees immunity: not gender, sexuality,
ethnicity or age”