Men ‘suffering in silence’ as more than 300,000 have eating disorders

More than half of men with eating disorders are “suffering in silence”, having never received treatment, and a third have never sought it, shocking new figures reveal. Eating disorder charity Beat estimates that more than 300,000 men in the UK are affected and while treatable, recovery can become far more challenging the longer someone is unwell.

Beat’s chief executive, Andrew Radford said a continued lack of understanding and sometimes sympathy for men suffering from eating disorders remains a barrier for some who need help.

He said: “Eating disorders can be devastating, with anorexia having the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, so it’s vital to catch them at the first signs.

“Everyone deserves treatment, and we have to break the myths that mean that some men still aren’t aware there is treatment for them in the first place. 

“We shouldn’t learn about eating disorders only when we or a loved one become unwell, or just hear about them affecting one demographic.

“It’s completely possible to make a full recovery, and it’s deeply unfair that so many men haven’t been given a chance to recover sooner due to our society’s lack of understanding.”

Beat’s research was carried out for Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which starts today (Mon) and is the UK’s biggest-ever survey of men’s experiences with eating disorders.

Of the one in three men who said they had never tried to get treatment for their eating disorder, almost half weren’t aware that treatment was available at all.

This may be down to the fact that eating disorders are often stereotyped as an illness that affects only women and girls.

Sadly, as a result, Beat said that many respondents to its survey felt as if they didn’t deserve treatment.

One sufferer, who did not want to be named, said: “My workplace – a university – had a webpage on eating disorders which said that only teenage girls could be affected.”

Mr Radford said we must continue to address the ongoing gender bias around eating disorders so every man who is suffering feels comfortable getting help when they need it.

He added: “Men shouldn’t have to struggle in silence.

“Although there is still a lot of work to be done, society has made great strides in breaking the stigma around male mental health – now it’s time for eating disorders in men to be recognised and addressed.”

This week, Beat is campaigning to break the stigma surrounding male eating disorders, dispel harmful stereotypes and encourage men to reach out for help.   

Four in five respondents felt raising awareness would help more men get treatment sooner.

The charity has announced it is this week launching a new online support group, Osprey, to provide a safe space for men to explore their experiences of disordered eating.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “People with eating disorders can face stigma, which can stop them from reaching out for help and support.

“To support early identification, raising awareness and reducing the stigma associated with mental health conditions is paramount.”

The Government said it is “committed to improving eating disorder and mental health services” in the UK. It said it is investing almost £1bn in community mental health care for adults with severe mental illness, including eating disorders, by 2024.

If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s health, you can contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, 365 days a year at 0808 801 0677 or

Eating disorder sufferer Dave Chawner said he avoided help for years because he “never felt ill enough” to do anything about it.

After reaching breaking point – feeling numb, not getting any enjoyment out of anything, unable to sleep, and constantly drained of energy – he reached out to his GP.

Despite feeling as if the “doctor would take one look at me, laugh, and tell me not to waste their time”, he was diagnosed as severely clinically anorexic.

Speaking to the Express, he said: “When I was 17, I got a role in a school play. I had to appear topless, so I decided to lose some weight. I couldn’t believe how many people were congratulating me on this. It made sense in my mind if they thought losing weight was ‘good’ then putting on weight must be bad.

“Then, I went to university and with UCAS applications, essay deadlines, exams, and coursework to deal with, restricting food and calories became something else to concentrate on, another focus and one I felt more in control of.

“I began buying books which listed the calories in different foods. In order to offset those calories, I then began exercising – swimming, running, weights, push-ups, sit-ups. 

“Slowly over time, these behaviours became more and more extreme. I became increasingly obsessed with losing weight, exercising more, and eating less. I felt that if I could control my weight, I’d be able to get a grip on everything else.

“I soon realised I had a problem, but I didn’t do anything about it because I never felt ill ‘enough’.

“I was worried, if I went to the doctor they’d take one look at me, laugh, and tell me to stop wasting their time.

“It took me years to seek help, and even then, I went to the doctors for depression. I started feeling numb, not getting any enjoyment out of anything, not being able to sleep, unable to concentrate, and constantly feeling drained of energy.

“Eventually, I was diagnosed by my GP as severely clinically anorexic and had to go through 2.5 years of treatment at The Maudsley Hospital in South London.”

Now, Mr Chawner is trying to help others with a comedy course he has set up aimed at people with mental health struggles to teach stand-up as a method of building communication, developing confidence, and nurturing connections with other people to combat loneliness.

He said it “literally provides a platform for them to stand up for themselves”.

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