Role of Biological Gender and Sexual Orientation in Eating Disorders

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Eating disorders are among such type of diseases which seem less dangerous but the person suffering from any of these diseases can only realize the severity of them. Traditionally, eating disorders are related to females, but they are also not rare in males. It is assessed that male patients of bulimia nervosa are about 10 to 15% & that of anorexia nervosa are of about 5 to 10%. In population of 100,000 subjects, incidence rate (total number of new cases divided by the population at risk) is about 0.8 (male: female ratio = 1:27) for bulimia & incidence rate is > 0.5 for anorexia. Studies show that eating disorders are prevailing gradually among males as compared to in the past (Kjelsas et al., 2004).

 

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Role of Biological Gender and Sexual Orientation in Eating Disorders

 

Eating disorders are among such type of diseases which seem less dangerous but the person suffering from any of these diseases can only realize the severity of them. Traditionally, eating disorders are related to females, but they are also not rare in males. It is assessed that male patients of bulimia nervosa are about 10 to 15% & that of anorexia nervosa are of about 5 to 10%. In population of 100,000 subjects, incidence rate (total number of new cases divided by the population at risk) is about 0.8 (male: female ratio = 1:27) for bulimia & incidence rate is > 0.5 for anorexia. Studies show that eating disorders are prevailing gradually among males as compared to in the past (Kjelsas et al., 2004). That’s why, researchers examined that what features of disease is peculiar among males and females? Disorder is same at earlier stage in males according to the research of Hilde Bruch (1973). Eating disorders age of onset in males appeared to have a single peak at about the age of 14. Patients with older ages of onset reported a longer period of disorder & lower percentage of mean matched population weight. This study, according to the authors, confirmed the results of previous studies carried out on female samples (Forman-Hoffman et al., 2008). As compared to females, males are more engrossed in thoughts for weight and food. They have more sexual anxiety and show hyperactivity more than females (Fichter et al., 1985).

 

Higher prevalence of asexuality, premorbid obesity and homosexuality have found in men with bulimia nervosa but strict weight control is less concerned. That’s why, homosexuality is more common among males with bulimia, psychiatric comorbidity and suicide attempt are more in males as compared to females (Grabhorn et al., 2003). Interpersonal distrust, overweight, higher perfectionism and higher premorbid obesity more among males. Excessive exercising is more frequent in males as compared to females. Though sought treatment is low in both sexes but females are more likely to have sought treatment than males. “muscle dysmorphia” or “reverse anorexia” (concern for not being muscular enough or distorted perception of one’s own body image) signs are also more common among males (Harvey & Robinson, 2003). It is believed that 5% of males (who do body building) suffer from reverse anorexia and that 9% of the subjects with body dysmorphism focus their feeling of ineffectiveness on muscles (Pope et al., 2000).

Sexual Orientation and eating disorder in males:

It is suggested that sexual orientation may have an association with eating psychopathologies. From studies of eating-disordered men, it was observed that a considerable number of these men are homosexual, bisexual or asexual. Sexual inactivity, conflictual homosexuality and sexual isolation like problems are faced by bulimic and anorexic males more than females (Herzog et al., 1984).

It is proved from several empirical studies that males with homosexual are more prone to eating disorder because gay is more worried about their look & less satisfied with their bodies, that’s why, they more vulnerable to eating problems in order to attract other men. It is observed that while choosing their mates, men give more importance to physical beauty than women. Therefore, as homosexual have to attract other men so, they are more conscious for their physical beauty (Siever, 1994).

 

Sexual orientation and eating disorders in females:

It is observed that homosexual females are less prone to eating disorder than heterosexual females. To support this, researcher revealed fewer dysfunctional eating attitudes and behaviors in homosexual women than in heterosexuals. Homosexual women were less concerned with weight than heterosexual woman. Heterosexual females showed greater concern with their weight and physical appearance, higher anxiety about being overweight, and more dieting behavior than homosexual (Gettleman & Thompson, 1993).

 

 

Gender role orientation and eating disorders:

Women are more vulnerable to develop eating disorders than men and, traditionally, disordered eating has been considered as a “women’s matter” (Pritchard, 2008). If we consider only the homosexual males, rate of eating disorder rises significantly in males compared to females. However, in general, femininity was associated with high levels of eating psychopathology, whereas masculinity was negatively related to abnormal eating behaviors and attitudes. A meta-analytic review showed that women and men with eating disorders reported higher levels of femininity and lower of masculinity than normal controls. However, the relationship between gender role orientation and eating pathologies was small.

If homosexuality by itself is not considered as a risk factor in developing an eating disorder, then the feminine component of sexuality, expected to be found in an association between femininity and eating disorder symptoms, regardless of biological gender, or sexual orientation of the subject. Consequently, it would be acceptable to assume a greater vulnerability to eating disorders in men who experience a strong and persistent identification with the opposite sex and who live a constant discomfort with their biological sex or sense of alienation from the sexual role of that sex, in other words in those men who suffer from a gender identity disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).

References:

  1. American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th edition), American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc., ISBN 978-0890420256, Washington, DC.
  2. Forman-Hoffman, V.L.; Watson, T.L. & Andersen, A.E. (2008). Eating disorder age of onset in males: distribution and associated characteristics. Eating and Weight Disorders, Vol. 13, No. 2, (June 2008), pp. 28-31, ISSN 1124-4909.
  3. Gettelman, T.E. & Thompson, J.K. (1993). Actual differences and stereotypical perceptions in body image and eating disturbance: A comparison of male and female heterosexual and homosexual samples. Sex Roles, Vol. 29, No. 7-8, (n.d.), pp. 545–562, ISSN 0360-0025.
  4. Pritchard, M. (2008). Disordered Eating in Undergraduates: Does Gender Role Orientation Influence Men and Women the Same Way?. Sex Roles, Vol. 59, No. 3-4, (n.d.), pp.282-289, ISSN 0360-0025.
  5. Herzog, D.B.; Norman, D.K.; Gordon, C. & Pepose, M. (1984). Sexual conflict and eating disorders in 27 males. The American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 141, No. 8, (August 1984) pp. 989-990, ISSN 0002-953X.
  6. Siever, M. (1994), Sexual orientation and gender as factors in socio-culturally acquired vulnerability to body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 62, No. 2, (April 1994), pp.252-260, ISSN 0022-006X.
  7. Pope, H.G. Jr; Olivardia, R. & Phillips, K. (2000). The Adonis Complex: The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession (1ST edition), Free Press, ISBN 978-0684869100, New York.
  8. Harvey, J.A. & Robinson, J.D. (2003). Eating disorders in men: Current considerations. Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings, Vol. 10, No. 4, (n.d), pp. 297–306, ISSN 1068-9583.
  9. Grabhorn, R.; Köpp, W.; Gitzinger, I.; von Wietersheim, J. & Kaufhold, J. (2003). Differences between female and male patients with eating disorders–results of a multicenter study on eating disorders (MZ-Ess). Psychotherapie, Psychosomatik, medizinische Psychologie, Vol. 53, No. 1, (January 2003), pp. 15-22, ISSN 0937-2032.
  10. Kjelsas, E.; Bjornstrom, G. & Gotestam, K.G. (2004). Prevalence of eating disorders in female and male adolescents (14-15 years). Eating behaviors, Vol. 5, No. 1, (January 2004), pp. 13-25, ISSN 1471-0153.

 

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Islam and Eating Disorders founded in 2012 – run by Maha Khan, the blog creates awareness of Eating Disorders in the Muslim world, offers information and support for sufferers and their loved ones.

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