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Social media, athletic pressure drives surge in male eating disorders

About 10 million men in the United States will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

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Cyrus Webb was one of them.

"I was 20 years old. I remember the time … feeling as though I was not happy, and I ended up trying to kill myself," Webb said.

Webb had been self-conscious about his weight at the time, and was afraid he would lose a spot in his marching band.

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"I would do fasting, especially when I started doing more things in the public. Basically starving myself. Going running a lot. Sometimes making myself sick. And all because of trying to be the image I thought I needed to be, especially if you were going to be accepted," Webb said.

One in three people struggling with an eating disorder is a male

The latest numbers show Webb's struggle is increasingly more common among men. According to the National Eating Disorder Association or NEDA, one in three people struggling with an eating disorder is male.

NEDA also reports that black teenagers are 50 percent more likely than white teenagers to exhibit binging and purging behaviors. But due in part to cultural bias, they are much less likely to seek treatment for their eating disorder.

Social Media’s Role

"I think the biggest myth that still exists today is that this is an issue among women," Harvard University researcher Alvin Tran said. Tran says social media is playing a role in the trend.

“There are researchers who suspect that social media and other forms of the media are contributing a role. Young men, young boys are seeing images of males in the media. These body images tend to be muscular men with little body fat. Kids are seeing these images as the ideal male body at a very early age," Tran added.

In particular, Tran's research found a significant spike in unhealthy eating habits among men of color on dating apps. 

The Weight of Perfection for Athletes

Athletes are also struggling in greater numbers. 

"People will assume that if an athlete is performing well, that means they’re healthy and that could be very different from the actual truth of the scenario," Matt Stranberg said

Stranberg is a counselor, dietician, and strength conditioning coach with Walden Behavioral Health. He says 33 percent of male athletes in weight class sports are affected by eating disorders.

But there are very few programs in the country that deal specifically with athletes … or men overall.

Cyclist Ben Frederick lived through the struggle after a bike crash left him with a traumatic brain injury.

Frederick was “trying to be one of very few people that can ride a bike for their living … when that goes away and the world opens up to you, it can feel very out of control.""

Frederick said he was able to control the feelings he got if he did not eat. It spiraled until he wound up hospitalized.

“Sitting in that hospital bed having a heartrate of 30 beats per minute was the rock bottom."

Now that he’s recovering, he wanted to share his story, so others might be inspired to find help.

Just shy of two weeks into his recovery, he is back on his bike and sharing his story.

A study of more than 2,400 people hospitalized for an eating disorder found that 97 percent also had conditions such as depression, PTSD or anxiety. 

For more information, contact the NEDA.

NEDA CALL HELPLINE: (800) 931-2237
WEBSITE: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

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