Bulimia is an eating disorder characterised by bingeing on large amounts of food followed by purging of the food by vomiting or the use of laxatives. For men with bulimia it is not uncommon to binge and purge as many as 10 or even more times a day. Repeated vomiting causes other complications such as sore throat, bad teeth and poor skin.
Unlike anorexia which inevitably leads to weight loss and the scrutiny of worried onlookers, bulimia can often be hidden well. In fact some of the men with bulimia are overweight.
Central to the experience of bulimia in men is low self-esteem. The repeated bingeing on food creates feelings of self disgust and shame which mirrors how the man feels about himself. For men, the fact that eating disorders are often presented as "woman's issue" just adds to the shame and guilt. Some straight sufferers are concerned about seeking help in case professionals think they are gay.
Why do men get bulimia? Well bulimia is most likely to occur in the teen years. These are painful and confusing times in any boy's life as hormones and social pressures mix to form, for many, intolerable emotional burdens. It is true that bulimia is more common in families that do not meet the boys emotional needs. It is also true that bulimia is more common in boys with high standards and a degree of perfectionism. But the more we find out about bulimia, like other mental health problems, it looks likely that there is a high genetic component to the illness.
Whatever the reasons for the disorder, if you are suffering from bulimia, or other forms of eating distress, you can expect to be treated sympathetically and with respect if you approach a professional for help. The excellent work by Sam Thomas of Men Get Eating Disorders Too has done much to raise the profile of eating distress in men throughout the health care system.
Treatment for bulimia should ideally be three pronged. The first is to bring the bingeing and purging under control. The second is to understand why bingeing and purging became the method the man used to cope with their emotional pain. The third is to teach new and more effective techniques for emotional regulation. There is a way out of bulimia, but you do need to ask for the help.
Dr Phil Tyson is a Men's Psychotherapist based in Manchester in the UK. He offers:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (cbt) for men in Manchester
- Counselling for men in Manchester
- Psychotherapy for men in Manchester
- Telephone and online counselling for men wherever you live
- Supervision and consultative support for therapists in Manchester
- Mediation for employment disputes in Manchester and the UK