Waist-ing Away: 3.6 Percent Of Anorexics Are Gay Men

By: Daniel Villarreal
9.24.2012

After a hard breakup, Steven began to make himself throw up after meals. At first, just a few, but then after every meal.

It got to a point where he began ingesting less than 400 calories a day: "two rice cakes, two tablespoons of peanut butter, and one small banana."

Gradually, he lost 150 pounds. He felt much colder during the winter. His friends thought he'd become more isolated and withdrawn. And his masseur once gasped when seeing his bony back and the curtains of skin hanging off of it.

But when Steven finally went to find help, he realized that most help centers for anorexics treated it as a gender-specific "female illness," didn't know how to work with men and didn't want men around reminding female patients about the former lovers and abusive fathers who may have driven them to self-starvation.

Gay.net has definitely looked into male anorexia and unrealistic bodies in fashion, but GQ has a wonderful article that looks deeper into male anorexia, its causes and consequences.

Here's some of the more surprising facts from their reporting:

- 20 percent of all anorexics are men and 18 percent of those men are gay, making 3.6 percent of all anorexics gay.

- Mark Warren, founder of the Cleveland Center for Eating Disorders says that three-fourths of all male anorexics never seek help.

- "Anorexia is diagnosed on the basis of three criteria: self-induced starvation, a morbid fear of fatness, and the suppression of sex-hormone production."

Here are the article's three best paragraphs that explain the sorts of men inclined to be anorexic, the medical complications that arise with anorexia and the disease's lethality:

A male anorexic tends to conform to a particular personality type: "anxious, obsessive, persevering, and perfectionistic," according to Arnold Andersen of the University of Iowa. He is desperate to please and hypersensitive to rejection and humiliation. The illness typically takes root during adolescence, and it is almost never the first, or only, way he tries to deal with social, sexual, or academic anxiety: He may also use drugs, or cut himself, or have OCD. A young man faces a heightened risk if he was overweight in grade school and teased for it, or if obesity or eating disorders run in his family, or if he participates in a sport that emphasizes speed or weight control (such as wrestling, distance running, or cycling), or if he's gay, as are an estimated 18 percent of male anorexics.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate, between 5 and 10 percent, of any mental illness. Half of the deaths are by suicide, the other half from medical complications. The illness lasts an average of eight years in men, a third longer than in females, probably because men wait longer to seek treatment. Twenty percent of recovered anorexics die before reaching their life expectancy.

Without potassium, the muscles of the heart weaken and develop rhythmic abnormalities that can be fatal, particularly if the patient is a relentless overexerciser. Bones deprived of calcium lose their density, causing osteoporosis. The condition is insidious and hard to treat. You may think you've fully recovered from a five-year bout with anorexia, but without your realizing it, your bones have begun to rot. At 40, stepping off a curb, you might suffer a spinal-compression fracture, losing inches of height. The disease can also cause irreversible cognitive damage: The brains of severe anorexics are often indistinguishable on MRIs from those of Alzheimer's patients.

Anorexia is more than just dieting, it's literally starving one's self to become thin. And while the article says, "twenty years of lean, muscular male physiques in advertising, movies, sports, and of course, magazines like GQ—from Marky Mark to Brad Pitt to David Beckham—have changed the way both men and women regard the male body," there are also places to get help if you or someone you love is struggling with the disease.

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