Healthy Living in the North

Tales from the Man Cave: men and eating disorders

You are youIncreasing numbers of males are developing eating disorders. The men’s health MANual dedicates over 19 of its 39 pages to eating healthy, a very important topic. However, one section that is missing is unhealthy eating in males (although it is implied throughout that our diets suck), and when I say unhealthy, what I actually mean is disordered.

Earlier this month was National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, a time to reflect on eating disorders and to share (by shouting out loud from the rooftops) the warning signs. It’s also a time to let those who have an eating disorder know what help is available (see below for a list of resources).

Our world seems obsessed by weight – everywhere I go there is some conversation about weight. It is said that this is the silent epidemic and that in their lifetime, 10 million males in the US will develop a significant eating disorder and overall 5% of males will have a significant eating disorder in the western world. This is apparently much higher in the gay community.

It seems to me that the world we live in is increasingly telling us that we are our bodies and has been doing so for almost 50 years. More specifically, it seems to say that we are what our body looks like. Well, we lads used to be able to nod our heads in sympathy that this was a woman’s world. But no more.

When I was a young lad, it was rare to see all those guys with muscle in places where, generally, muscle did not seem to express itself too much. I even spent some time in Glasgow’s Ingram street boxing gym, where the world Champion Jim Watt trained and never saw the kind of display you do now.

Maybe I am just a wimp but it occurs to me it was never needed. When we engaged in weightlifting activity, it was usually at work with a mate, such as running upstairs with a full beer keg on each shoulder. We both could do it – we were young strong men. No need to look like young strong men or stand naked in the mirror flexing muscles. No need to be into protein powders and steroids, just whatever you could grab on the run and that was usually made by mum or, in my case, Dad.

Now males are falling into the media trap. We are, apparently, what our bodies look like. We are our image and it’s distorted. We can never be buff enough, and so some young people are developing in the opposite direction and going down the anorexic road.

There is pressure from media in all directions and a confusing array of messages: Eat more. Eat less. Look like this. Own this. Have this. Need this. Be this. Did you notice how stupid men look in a great deal of advertisements? For goodness sake, shut up, I hear myself shouting at the TV! Truly adverts make me feel sick – it’s a subtle form of bullying that goes unnoticed, and I am tired of flashy lies being broadcast into my home. (Yes, I know, get the heck off the couch. Well that’s another blog post.)

The body comes in all shapes and sizes, so eat healthy, quit dieting, and let it be what it is. You are not what your body looks like. You are you.

Resources on eating disorders:

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.