MANOREXIA: THE HIDDEN EPIDEMIC; EXCLUSIVE: It's Traditionally Associated with Women, but One in Four of the 2.7 Million People with Eating Disorders Are Male, and the Majority of Those Are Vulnerable Young Men

Article excerpt

Byline: Kim Willis

Think of anorexia and most of us imagine a painfully thin, unhappy teenage girl. But one in four people with an eating disorder is a man.

And while the reasons they embark on these self-destructive and dangerous eating regimes are the same as women, our medical and support systems are not always geared to recognising their plight.

Liam Brady, now 25, is a typical case of an emotionally troubled young man who became dangerously ill through anorexia. His problems developed slowly, after he broke up with his girlfriend.

"When my girlfriend had a miscarriage, we were both devastated. Soon, we were arguing all the time and grew apart," Liam recalls. After they split Liam felt he'd lost his grip.

"The only thing I could control was my diet. I started counting every single calorie that passed my lips," he says.

"I weighed myself first thing in the morning, last thing at night, naked, dressed - I was constantly on the scales and panicked if I had put on the tiniest amount."

Liam's diet consisted of scraps, surviving on a bare minimum calorie intake.

"A mushroom for breakfast. Porridge for lunch, and a small box of raisins if I couldn't make it through the afternoon," he says. Liam's friends couldn't believe how frail he'd become and urged him to eat.

"They told me I looked like I needed a kebab.

"As for girls - they never looked at me, except in amazement at my skeletal body."

After two long, difficult years, Liam's body gave up and in February 2009, he collapsed.

"I dragged myself to the mirror and stared. I saw myself for who I really was.

"Sunken eyes, veins popping out of my arms, visible rib cage and stick-like legs," Liam says.

"At 6ft 2in, my weight had plummeted to 8st 7lbs. I was bordering on starvation."

Staring at his reflection, Liam knew he'd gone too far. "I'd had enough. I didn't want to die. I took photographs of myself and promised myself I'd change."

With the help of doctors and his parents, Liam slowly started eating again.

But he is one of the lucky ones. Recent research by the NHS Information Centre suggests 2.7 million people showed signs of an eating disorder.

But only a fraction of sufferers - men or women - seek medical help, and the secrecy that many sufferers have makes it difficult to know the true number of sufferers.

Male eating disorders are most likely to begin between the ages of 14 and 25. In addition to risk factors commonly linked to women, such as unresolved distress, emotional stress, other factors are likely to contribute to men developing an eating disorder.

This is Eating Disorders Awareness Week and Sam Thomas, head of Men Get Eating Disorders Too, says: "A combination and culmination of pressures can lead to eating disorders - peer pressure, money worries, relationships and self image concerns build up over time and impact physically, mentally and emotionally, increasingly leading to eating disorders in the male population."

A lot of men who found the courage to approach their GPs were rebuffed. "Doctors, just like anyone else, tend to see eating disorders as a woman's illness. There seems to be an inbuilt belief a man presenting the same problems as a woman should be diagnosed as depressed, not anorexic," Sam explains.

One of the reasons he cites for men developing an eating disorder is the need to perform in peak condition.

Ashley Day, 20, dreamed of a career as a professional footballer. At 16, he was sports mad, training three times a week and playing matches twice a week for Grays Athletic FC in Essex. "I knew if I was in prime physical condition, I could play a better game of football and further my career.

"I avoided carbs and fat. I was determined to be the best player on the pitch and I thought I could only achieve that by intense exercise," Ashley says. …