Eating Disorders in Male-Identifying Individuals

Eating disorders are traditionally misunderstood when it comes to male-identifying individuals, with societal perceptions often overlooking or downplaying their prevalence and impact. Despite this misconception, male-identifying individuals grapple with these disorders in significant numbers, underscoring the need for greater awareness and understanding. This is supported by the following data published by the Butterfly Foundation:

  • 35% of people living with Binge Eating Disorder are male.
  • More than a third of Australians affected by eating disorders are male.
  • 40% of those demonstrating disordered eating behaviours aged 11-17 are male.


Male-identifying individuals are disproportionately affected by Muscle Dysmorphic Disorder (MDD), a subtype of Body Dysmorphia characterised by an obsession with muscularity. Unlike other eating disorders, this presentation is less common in females. This disorder is associated with the societal emphasis on the ‘ideal’ masculine physique, which drives male-identifying individuals to pursue a muscular and lean body shape, exacerbating body image issues and potentially leading to the development of an eating disorder. Signs of Muscle Dysmorphia may manifest as:

  • Fixation on fitness and body image.
  • Fear of weight gain.
  • Adopting restrictive diets and eliminating specific foods.
  • Episodes of bingeing and purging.
  • Spending an excessive amount of time exercising or lifting weights, often for several hours each day.
  • Irritability or defensiveness when confronted about exercise and eating habits.
  • Feelings of dissatisfaction, isolation, and social avoidance.
  • Resorting to muscle-enhancing drug use.

Both MMDD and another condition, orthorexia or a fixation on healthy eating, have garnered attention recently in the media. Orthorexia can present as an obsessive pursuit of ‘clean’ or ‘pure’ eating, marked by strict adherence to dietary rules and rituals aimed at achieving an idealised concept of health. This can involve meticulously planning meals, avoiding certain food groups deemed ‘unhealthy’, and experiencing anxiety or guilt when deviating from these dietary restrictions.

Overall, the fixation on achieving a perceived ideal body size, level of muscularity, or ‘clean eating’ status can drive male-identifying individuals towards engaging in strict dieting, excessive and repetitive exercise, and potentially substance abuse (such as steroid use), extreme carbohydrate restriction, or the adoption of fad diets.

It’s also important to note that male-identifying individuals can also be diagnosed with other eating disorders, such as Avoidant/restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), which is becoming more prevalent. Additionally, male-identifying individuals can be diagnosed with eating disorders more commonly associated with women, such as Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, or Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED).

In such instances, it’s important to watch for these general signs:

  • Extreme preoccupation with body image: Consistently discussing weight, body shape, or appearance and expressing dissatisfaction with one’s body.
  • Dramatic weight changes: Significant fluctuations in weight, characterised by rapid loss or gain without a clear medical reason.
  • Unusual eating habits: Engaging in obsessive calorie counting, avoiding certain food groups, secretive eating behaviours, or adhering to rigid food rituals.
  • Excessive exercise: Compulsively exercising to the point of exhaustion, injury, or neglecting other responsibilities.
  • Distorted body image: Perceiving oneself as overweight or out of shape despite being underweight or having a healthy physique.
  • Social withdrawal: Avoiding social situations involving food, making excuses to skip meals with others, or withdrawing from social interactions altogether.
  • Mood swings: Experiencing fluctuations in mood, including irritability, anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem related to body image.
  • Physical symptoms: Experiencing fatigue, dizziness, fainting, dehydration, gastrointestinal issues, or hormonal imbalances.
  • Denial: Minimising or dismissing concerns about weight, eating habits, or body image issues when confronted by others.

Eating disorders among male-identifying individuals is a growing concern that is often overlooked due to stereotypes and societal expectations. It’s important to recognise that these disorders can affect anyone, regardless of gender. By familiarising ourselves with the signs and promoting open conversations, we can help those affected to find the support they need.

Seeking Support

If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of an eating disorder, seeking support is crucial. The first step is acknowledging that there might be a problem and reaching out for help. General practitioners can serve as a good starting point, as they can refer you to specialists such as psychologists or dietitians who specialise in treating eating disorders.

For family and carers of individuals with an eating disorder, Eating Disorders Families Australia can also provide a space to learn and connect with others facing similar challenges.

About Eating Disorders Families Australia 

Eating Disorders Families Australia (EDFA) is the only national organisation solely for carers and families of those with an eating disorder. EDFA provides support, EDucation, advocacy, and FREE online counselling services and annual membership. EDFA has a private Facebook forum, providing a safe place for eating disorder carers and family members to share experiences, seek advice and assistance, and find hope.  

EDFA’s range of support groups includes general support groups which are open to all carers, supporting a loved one with ANY diagnosis, and carer-specific support groups that include our Male Carers support group. 

For more information about any of our services, please don’t hesitate to contact us. 

Additional Reading Recommendations 

For further information on eating disorders in male-identifying individuals please visit: Inside Out Institute for Eating Disorders or the National Eating Disorders Collaboration.