While girls still make up the majority of patients with eating disorders, experts have been seeing more boys needing treatment for eating disorders. Yet, boys often don’t receive treatment early enough.
“Men are more likely to be hospitalized as well. They don’t seek treatment soon enough. By the time they do it is really bad," Ellen Astrachan-Fletcher, regional managing clinical director at Eating Recovery Center, told TODAY Parents.
While signs and symptoms are similar for eating disorders in males and females, there are slight differences, she explained. Men and boys are more likely to:
- Focus on building lean muscle mass
- Compulsively exercise
- Use exercise to compensate for eating
Generally, Astrachan-Fletcher said parents should seek help for an eating disorder if they notice:
- A healthy child losing weight
- An extreme change in weight in a short period of time (increasing or decreasing)
- Compulsive exercising
- Becoming despondent, depressed or angry if they can’t exercise like they want
- Restricting food
- Withdrawing from eating
- Mood changes
“Once you recognize there is a real eating disorder here it has probably gone on for a while. These are things that start out slowly. You might not even notice some slight shifts in how they eat and a gradual increase in exercise,” Astrachan-Fletcher explained. “With males it is just not something we think about quickly.”
Astrachan-Fletcher said that children with eating disorder need specialized treatment. While approaches vary based on what eating disorder a person has, males and females are treated very similarly. But, it is important for males to be in a facility that's for them.
“To take a boy and put him in an all-female unit is likely going to seem more stigmatizing,” she said.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on Sept. 3, and has been updated.