When you have a boy, people start congratulating you on the many things you won’t have to worry about. “You’ll save a fortune on pink,” they’ll say. While the pink thing is probably true, I believe that the rumors of how easy parents of boys have it are greatly exaggerated.
For example, you rarely hear about boys and body image issues. We all know about the body image pressure that girls and women and surrounded with, but the truth is that boys are faced with similar messages. While the majority of people suffering from eating disorders are women, almost 20-30% are men — and they face an even more difficult path to recovery than women because a lot of times we simply don’t believe they can have an eating disorder. Jezebel recently discussed the problem,
The problem, it seems, is that not enough people take seriously the fact that boys can have a problem with food, eating, and their bodies. Doctors facing blaring, obvious symptoms of the disease, will ignore them because dudes can’t be anorexic. Families of men with bulimia will ignore things that, in girls, would be seen as red flags. Boys and men who find themselves battling EDs are often on their own to diagnose themselves, and then seek treatment. There’s a problem with that, too — more than half of the eating disorder treatment centers in the US won’t accept men, who are often already on the fringe.
Anorexia is a very dangerous disease, and because it is so rarely diagnosed, it is especially dangerous in men. As GQ reports, the disease permanently damages the bodies of those that survive it, which is even more reason to closely watch your boys for warning signs.
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. Like a layer of soil that reveals a long-ago period of drought, the organs of an anorexic’s body seem to retain the scars of being starved.
Because so few centers accept men and boys, many of those that recognize that they have a serious illness turn to self-treating themselves. But as the same GQ article explains, it’s not as easy as “just eating” again,
You can die from not eating, and you can also die from eating again. As an anorexic begins to ingest food, the rate of his blood circulation increases. Sometimes his atrophied heart can’t handle it. This condition is called refeeding syndrome, and it can be fatal.
As parents, we owe it to our boys to believe them when they show signs of an eating disorder. It’s not fair to them to expect them to tough it out.
More from Roxanna
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