Males with eating disorders have historically been misdiagnosed, underdiagnosed, and lacking effective care. In truth, there are millions of males worldwide who meet diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder. Due to stigma, the belief that this is a "female disease," and fear of asking for help, males typically go without care until the disease as at a severe level. Eating disorders are the deadliest mental illness there is, and males die due to the physical effects of the disease as well as suicide at rates comparable and possibly even higher than women depending on the study. Whether it's anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or related diagnoses, it's appropriate and most often necessary to ask for help to recover. And the problem is not about body image all the time. The source of an eating disorder is typically about control, dominance, and drive to be exceptional. For those who struggle with binge eating, the answer is not another diet. The roots of that disorder are far more nuanced than just "eating right." Let's figure out how to move past the behavior and live your life in a way that's happy, healthy and sustainable.
This diagnosis is one of the most misunderstood mental health diagnoses out there. For males who meet criteria for this, there is a perception that they can't get lean enough and muscular enough to make themselves happy. Being in the gym or working out can feel like the most important part of life. The anxiety that comes with missing out on exercise can feel overwhelming, so men will choose the workout over social events and even work and academic expectations. Another sign is working out while injured or sick due to a severe discomfort with the thought of losing out on the gains they have worked so hard to get. The drive for a lean body and large developed muscles is often accompanied by rigid dietary practices and use and abuse of legal and illegal appearance and performance enhancing drugs and products. The exercise is not just about obtaining the idealized body, but it also becomes the main tool for managing anxiety and mood issues that may also exist. Anxiety understandably increases significantly when exercise and food rituals are interrupted. It's a bit like an addict suddenly losing access to their drug. Recovery requires a comprehensive and knowledgeable team including mental health providers and medical professionals.
Athletes are expected to be exceptional and highly competitive individuals. Following rigid programs with meals and exercise are the expectation. But what happens when performance falls off? The International Olympic Committee developed a diagnosis that helps providers and athletes normalize this experience and seek help. It's called Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports, or RED-S. Working with a team that understands the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviors among competitive athletes is essential. But as is becoming more acknowledged, the issue is not always about nutrition and training. The issue is often deeper and completely related to mental health. As Michael Phelps advocates, "It's okay to not be okay." Talking to someone who only wants the best for you and can truly listen is vital, and might even lead to better results in the end.
There is a deep connection between artistic expression and the volatile mind. Many artists in fact thrive on that instability, using at fuel for their creativity and performance. But the demands of creativity and performance can cause more chaos in the mind than can be managed for some. And sometimes the chaos simply overwhelms the creative mind. Working on your mental health, exploring your thoughts and beliefs and experiences, and finding balance when you need it is where you turn the ugly into beauty.
Who among us has ever had an ideal relationship? You know, the one we see in romantic comedies where it's always laughter and great sex? That's not reality. But finding out what may be missing in your relationship and how you can fix it is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself and your partner. And when the issue is that you're not getting your needs met, you learn how to recognize it, say what you need, and learn how to move on if necessary.
Beyond romantic relationships, friendships require similar amounts of dedication and nurturing. For those who are struggling to develop intimate relationships but want them, there are skills to be learned and fears to be overcome. It's worth it.
Family, whether biological or chosen, is often at the heart of our greatest strength and greatest fear and discomfort. For men, learning how to fully engage with your family in a healthy way is where many find their purpose and meaning. Fatherhood brings its own additional fears that can stem from a man's own childhood experiences both positive and negative. Having a place to talk about those experiences, thoughts, hopes and fears can bring newfound confidence in your ability to be the dad you want to be and that your child needs.
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