The warnings that anorexia rates are once again on the rise are scary enough for parents. Now add this to the mix: most of the cautions blaring out of TV screens and plastered across websites are only telling you half of the story. The number of teen girls diagnosed with an eating disorder has jumped again. But parents of sons, you all heaved a sigh of relief way too fast.
One of the most damaging and yet most pervasive myths about anorexia, bulimia, and the other assorted diagnoses of disordered eating is that it only affects females in America. Parents of girls are on heightened alert, at the ready to gauge frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, fainting spells, fatigue, and a sudden growth of hair on their daughter's thinning fame. News flash, Mom and Dad, you need to keep track of the same issues in your sons.
Nine percent of anorexic and bulimics are male. Doesn't sound like much? How about these figures: Of the 11 million Americans the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) estimates are struggling with anorexia or bulimia, 1 million are male.
One million sounds a lot more serious than 9 percent, doesn't it? Now consider this: the majority of people with severe eating disorders never receive care for it. There are 1 million or so males in America who are counted in the statistics. There are countless more who remain unreported.
And no wonder. Parents don't think about their boys being anorexic. The media reports featuring waifish teenage girls don't help.
But the beauty of science allows for the average boy to drop weight more easily than girls. And boys are still expected to be active, to be out there playing sports more so than their sisters -- a fact that makes it difficult for parents to gauge whether their son is a "normal guy" or an exercise anorexic, a person obsessed with exercise to lose weight.
Even the sexual mores of America feed into the problem. Boys in many families have the sort of free range that enables them to skip family dinner night after night, while their sisters are at home where Mom and Dad can keep an eye on them (and keep them from ending up pregnant).
Want to stop your son from lapsing into anorexia? Do the same thing you'd do for your daughter. Watch for the signs (NEDA has a thorough list). Talk to your sons. Stop treating them like they have a pass because they've got a penis.
Have you worried that your child might have an eating disorder? Is it a boy or a girl?
Image via puuikibeach/Flickr