Recognize that eating disorders do not discriminate on the basis of gender. Men canand do develop eating disorders.
Learn about eating disorders and know the warning signs. Become aware of your community resources (treatment centers, self-help groups, etc.). Encourage young men to seek professional help if necessary.
Understand that athletic activities or professions that necessitate weight restriction (e.g., gymnastics, track, swimming, wrestling, rowing) put males at risk for developing eating disorders. Coaches need to be aware of and disallow any excessive weight control or body building measures employed by their young male athletes.
Talk with young men about the ways in which cultural attitudes regarding ideal male body shape, masculinity, and sexuality are shaped by the media. Assist young men in expanding their idea of “masculinity” to include such characteristics as caring, nurturing, and cooperation.
Never emphasize body size or shape as an indication of a person’s worth or identity as a man. Value the person on the “inside” and help him to establish a healthful lifestyle through self-knowledge and expression rather than trying to obtain control through dieting or eating disordered behaviors.
Confront others who tease guys who do not meet traditional cultural expectations for masculinity. Confront anyone who tries to motivate or “toughen up” young men by verbally attacking their masculinity.
Listen carefully to a young man’s thoughts and feelings, take his pain seriously, help him to discover and celebrate his uniqueness.
Validate a young man’s strivings for independence and encourage him to develop all aspects of his personality, not only those that family and/or culture find acceptable. Respect a person’s need for space, privacy, and boundaries. Be careful about being overprotective. Allow him to exercise control and make his own decisions whenever possible, including control over what and how much he eats, how he looks, and how much he weighs.
Understand the crucial role of the father and other male influences in the prevention of eating disorders. Find ways to connect young men with healthy male role models.
Realize that body shape is predominantly influence by genetics.
Adapted from Shiltz,T. (1997): “Suggestions for Improving Body Image Handout 7.1” in Eating Concerns Support Group Curriculum, Community Recovery Press, Greenfield, WI. Updated in 2006 by Leigh Cohn of Gürze Books.
Permission granted for reprint by NEDA (www.NationalEatingDisorders.org).