The prevalence of eating disorders in men, particularly gay/bisexual men, has been getting greater media attention in the last few years. A new research study released online last month compared symptoms of bulimia and anorexia in gay/bisexual men versus straight men. In certain cases, being in a relationship seems to help protect against eating disorder symptoms for gay/bisexual men.
The study, to be published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, focused on men in their 30s and 40s who completed surveys on eating disorders symptoms. They found that gay/bisexual men reported eating disorder symptoms more often than straight then. This same finding has been shown in several previous studies.
Moreover, gay/bisexual men who were single were particularly at risk for restricting their food intake. This wasn’t the case for gay/bisexual men in relationships – they were similar to straight men in relationships in terms of food restriction. Being in a relationship may help protect gay/bisexual men from restricting their food intake.
Why would single, gay/bisexual men restrict their eating more than single straight men? The study authors suggest that gay/bisexual men feel more pressure to look “good” (i.e. thin) than straight men. The idea behind this is that men are more focused on a potential partner’s physical attractiveness than women – so a gay man would feel more pressure to be thin to attract another man while a straight man doesn’t have the same pressure when attracting a woman. This theory was originally proposed by Michael Seiver.
While the study found differences between single gay/bisexual men vs single straight men in terms of food restriction, this wasn’t the case for bulimic symptoms. Similar levels of bulimic symptoms were found between single men who were straight and gay/bisexual.
While the study offers a cultural theory to explain why single gay/bisexual men have greater rates of restrictive disordered eating compared to single straight men, it is simply a suggestion. We don’t know exactly why gay/bisexual men have higher rates of eating disorders than straight men, or why single gay/bisexual men are at greater risk than those in relationships, but at least more research has been conducted recently to examine these issues.
Photo credit: Jesstheripper