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People often think that only girls and women have eating disorders. But 10 million boys and men in the U.S. have them as well. Children’s Health works closely with families to help boys with eating disorders understand their condition and develop healthier eating habits.
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People with eating disorders have unhealthy thoughts and behaviors around their food or body weight. They might exercise too much and/or diet to develop a muscular body shape, or avoid foods with certain tastes and textures. Children with eating disorders can develop serious health problems from not getting enough nutrients.
Many people think eating disorders don’t affect boys or men. That’s not true, but boys and men are often less likely to seek treatment. Fortunately, boys who do get treatment have the same results and success rates as girls.
Eating disorders affect how a child thinks and behaves toward food. For example, a boy may see himself as overweight, even though he is actually normal weight or underweight. Or a boy might see himself as too skinny or not muscular enough and obsess over having a more muscular body.
The most common types of eating disorders in boys include:
Children with anorexia have a strong desire to avoid gaining weight. This can lead them to lose unhealthy amounts of weight. They are often extremely underweight (very thin) for their age but can be in or above their healthy weight range as well.
Children with bulimia tend to eat large amounts of food at once (called binge eating). Then they do something to avoid gaining weight, such as making themselves vomit, taking laxatives or exercising excessively. They can be average weight, underweight or even overweight for their age.
Children with ARFID struggle to eat for reasons that are unrelated to weight gain or body image. They may eat only a few specific foods and refuse all others. This may be based on texture, taste, a fear of choking or vomiting, or other fears or struggles. Boys with ARFID may lack the nutrients they need to grow and be active.
Symptoms vary depending on which eating disorder a boy has.
Only medical professionals can properly diagnose an eating disorder. They do this by gathering information about your child’s health and behavior through interviews, tests and exams.
To determine if your son has an eating disorder, we may look at their blood count and organ function, to see if they need medical care to restore the right balance of nutrients. We will ask you and your child about his eating and exercise habits, as well as certain social behaviors. Boys with eating disorders may withdraw from friends or do poorly in school, because they’re hiding or struggling with their disorder.
Many factors play a role in children developing eating disorders. These factors include genetics, stress, experiences, and social and cultural pressures to have a particular weight or appearance.
For example, many boys will feel pressure to be lean and muscular. This can lead to unhealthy eating habits and an obsession with changing their bodies.
Children of all different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and cultures can develop eating disorders. They do not choose to have an eating disorder, nor do they develop one because of parenting choices.
We take time to get to know each boy and his challenges, so we can plan the treatment that your son needs to get better. Treatments often include:
Children’s Health℠ medical professionals specialize in treating eating disorders in children and teens, including boys and children under age 12. Our experts have treated many boys with eating disorders and helped them get back to healthy lives. We work with you and other family members as one team, dedicated to giving your son the care they need.
Not eating enough or enough of the right nutrients can be very harmful. Anorexia can cause low blood pressure and damage to major organs like the brain, kidneys and heart. Children with bulimia can also have organ damage, while frequent vomiting can damage their teeth and throat as well. With ARFID, children might not hit the milestones for height and weight that are expected for their age.
Families are essential to helping boys with eating disorders get better. Have compassion for your son and the fears and struggles that come with his disorder. Help him understand his disorder and how it affects his thoughts and behaviors. Bring the whole family together for regular, relaxed and balanced meals. Actions like these help boys with eating disorders feel safe and supported as they create healthier habits.
We will provide you with resources to help both you and your son. You can also find information about eating disorders and support groups in the Resources section below.