Male Anorexia - The Hidden Disease

08/10/2014 10:19 BST | Updated 30/11/2014 10:59 GMT

We've all dealt with monsters under our bed. We've defeated them by signing songs, turning on night lamps, or reading stories. But, how do you defeat a monster that's living within you? I was 16 years old when faced with this question.

I had just joined the cross-country team. I had always been athletic, having played soccer since the wee age of 4, but had never run for the sheer sport of it. All I knew was that the world's best runners were skinny as sticks, completely neglecting the biological differences between a Kenyan's body and mine. As such, I deliberately lost so much weight that I began passing out at the end of every race. The physical and physiological factors leading up to that point lead to only one consensus: I was very clearly and very medically anorexic.

Let me stress that males are as much subject to the physiological and physical consequences of anorexia as are women. The risk factors--need for control, competitive atmosphere, and low self-esteem--are similar if not identical in both sexes. The consequences--cardiac irregularities, bone density decrease, electrolyte imbalances, and tooth decay--are also similar.

However, there is a social stigma associated with males acknowledging their condition and seeking help. Men, myself included, are less likely to seek treatment for a "woman's disease." Doing so would show weakness and vulnerability, right? The existence and prevalence of this idea cripples everyone in society. Believe it or not, toned male bodies in the media are just as detrimental to the male psyche as slim, pale female bodies are to the female psyche. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 10-15 percent of all anorexic patients are male. Moreover, data from Britain's National Health Service shows a 66% increase in hospital admissions for male eating disorders over the last decade. However, that a stigma exists means there could be many more undiagnosed males. Hospital admissions will continue rising if you and I stand idly by.

What can we do about it? Well, first of all, we can start spending more on anorexia research. Despite the disease's prevalence and impact, in 2011, per affected individual with Alzheimer's, $88 was spent in the U.S. according to the National Institutes of Health. For Schizophrenia: $81. For Autism: $44. For anorexia, the average amount in 2011 was a mere $0.93 cents per affected individual.

Second of all, we need to acknowledge "manorexia's" existence because it could be a friend, that guy in your class, or a brother that needs help but doesn't know how to seek it. Anorexia is not depression. There is no single pill to cure such a horrific disease. Although medication exists to tackle some of the risk factors, no pill specifically targets anorexia because firstly, the root cause is unknown. Secondly, the risk factors arise from sources outside of a patient's control, including societal and family pressure. If we really want to defeat or at least reverse the disease's spread, sweeping transformations--societal definitions of masculinity, academic expectations, and competitive pressures--across society are required.