When the subject of eating disorders comes up, most people naturally think it’s a chick thing. But the latest research shows that gender is neither a predictor of—or an insurance policy against—body image issues. In fact, the number of guys worldwide who suffer from eating disorders is on the rise, according to Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention. “There’s a lot more pressure these days for guys to have a cut body than there used to be in the past,” says Ted Weltzin, MD, medical director of eating disorder services at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
While eating disorders in women typically reveal themselves in the form of an emaciated body, the look is different for guys. Males with eating disorders tend to be overly focused on exercise and muscle definition, says Dr. Weltzin. If you’re body-conscious—and you probably are if you’re on this site—ask yourself these sic questions to make sure you have a healthy approach to nutrition and exercise. If after answering these questions you're worried that you may be crossing into unhealthy territorry, call the National Eating Disorder Association’s Live Helpline at 800-931-2237 to help you find an expert in your area who can help.
1. Are you drastically decreasing your calorie intake?
If your diet is very low in fat or calories—without adequate nutritional supervision from a physician or nutritionist—it could signal a problem. For a rough idea of the minimum number of calories you should eat a day, multiply 25 calories for every kilogram you weigh. So if you weigh 175, that’s 1,985 daily calories. “If you’re working out hard every day, that’s not a lot of food,” says Dr. Weltzin. “And if you’re eating that little and maintaining your same level of fitness, that’s a problem.”
2. Are you amping up your exercise?
There’s nothing wrong with challenging yourself to better a race time or a dead-lift weight, but you shouldn’t push yourself too hard if you’re significantly restricting calories at the same time. “If you continue to work out at the same level while restricting calories, you tend to lose your strength— even if you can maintain endurance,” says Weltzin. Cut back on calories, or ramp up exercise if you want to shed a few pounds, but you shouldn’t be drastic with both.
3. Are you obsessed by thoughts of food or your body?
If you spend more than half of your day thinking about food, weight, or your muscularity, you may need a wake-up call, says Dr. Weltzin. “If you’re sitting at the gym and you’re panicked about what you’re going to eat that night—or if you can see this muscle or that muscle—and feeling tortured about it, you’re not in a good place.”
4. Does exercise interfere with your work?
It’s healthy and time-savvy to squeeze in a workout on your lunch hour. But if you’re frequently late to work because of a lengthy, can’t-miss AM exercise schedule—or you skip out of the office in the afternoons to fit in a sweat session—it’s a sign that your dedication to your appearance is veering toward a danger zone.
5. Do you feel inadequate in your relationship?
Insecurities can occasionally get the better of anyone, but if you’re obsessively working out because you feel like you’re not muscular enough for your girlfriend—or you have a lot of issues around your sexual performance—it could be a sign that you’re unhealthily compensating for that anxiety. “A lot of guys I treat are rejection-sensitive, so they try to manage that by creating their own ‘body armor,’” says Dr. Weltzin.
6. Do you have physical symptoms?
If after exercising you are weak or run down, feel dizzy, or you have hart palpitations, those are serious warning signs that your exercise regimen is overloaded. “If after eating you feel panicked or desperate, or you force yourself to vomit, those are major red flags that you have an eating disorder,” says Dr. Weltzin.