What I want you to know about male eating disorders

Appearances can be deceiving when it comes to eating disorders, as Kelly Griffin found out.

Kelly, 44, developed anorexia nervosa several years ago after taking up competitive body building.

“I got way too lean, I had very minimal body fat, and it clearly triggered something in my brain to jump into starvation mode,” he says.

The IT consultant was hospitalised for eight weeks after massive weight loss and suffering heart damage.

“I went into atrophy, where your body eats muscle for energy,” says Kelly.

“It got to a point where, through a series of blood tests, we realised it was actually starting to eat my liver.

“I had all the classic symptoms of starvation mode, and all the classic symptoms of congestive heart failure.”

Men get eating disorders too

More than one million Australians are living with an eating disorder, and it doesn’t just affect females.

“Eating disorders don’t discriminate,” says Kelly.

“They can affect anyone no matter your age, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status or cultural background.”

Studies show eating disorders are estimated to affect 16.3 per cent of the Australian population.

According to research commissioned by the Butterfly Foundation, more than a third of people with eating disorders in Australia are male.

And it found the real figure could be much higher as males are less likely to seek help.

Eating disorders can manifest differently in males

While females with eating disorders often want to lose weight, males tend to want an unrealistically ideal body like a muscular physique.

“From a guy’s perspective, it’s ‘I want to be big, I want to be buff, I want to be ripped. I want that six pack of abs, and if I eat that rice or pasta or pizza I’m going to lose my abs’,” says Kelly.

Males can engage in severe dietary restriction, purging and excessive exercise.

Warning signs of eating disorders can include:

  • Rapid weight loss or frequent changes in weight
  • Training while injured
  • Preoccupation with food, weight, shape and appearance
  • Feelings of anxiety or loss of control around meal-times/food
  • Distorted body image
  • Dieting behaviours, e.g. “clean eating”, counting calories
  • Compulsive or excessive exercise
  • Abuse of steroids

The serious health dangers of eating disorders

Eating disorders are a serious and potentially life-threatening mental illness.

Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness.

Eating disorders are also associated with major wide-ranging and serious medical complications, which can affect every major organ in the body.

While Kelly was in hospital his heart beat was so low the monitors set the warning alarms off.

“I gave the night nurses a few scares,” he says.

Recovering from an eating disorder

Kelly says recovery is possible but the first step is to reach out for help.

“It’s not a life sentence, it’s not you, don’t be defined by this,” says Kelly.

“No matter what, please get help, it doesn’t matter where you get that help.”

Kelly says he has recovered and returned to the gym, but no longer follows “clean eating”.

“I definitely do not subscribe to the bro-science of clean eating and dietary restrictions,” he says. “I’m now happy to smash a burger or pizza.”

If you need help or support for an eating disorder or body image issue, contact Butterfly Foundation. You can also call the national helpline on 1800 334 673 or email [email protected].

Written by Bianca Carmona.