"You have about an hour to pack, and we want you at the hospital by dinner." It wasn't what the California teen expected to hear from the doctor, dietitian, and psychotherapist who were talking to him. Ditto their diagnosis: atypical anorexia. In a lengthy piece for BuzzFeed, Elamin Abdelmahmoud tackles the topic of men who have eating disorders—how many of them there are (more than you might think), what drives them (not necessarily weight loss), and what's to blame (Marvel movies, for one). That California 16-year-old—referred to in the story as Kyle—had a family history of hereditary obesity and started eating salads and jogging at age 12 in hopes of growing tall and lean. By 15 he was exercising 5 hours a day. When he entered the hospital his heart rate was in the 30s. Normal is a minimum of 60. He wasn't allowed to move for two weeks.
Abdelmahmoud reports that studies suggest as many as 1 in 3 eating disorders cases involve males, though it is still overwhelmingly thought of as a female disease. Physician and UCSF researcher Jason Nagata points out that being diagnosed with anorexia nervosa used to require missed periods. Even today's diagnostic questions can hit the wrong note, he says. "Many guys with eating disorders ... they’re not trying to lose weight. They're actually trying to bulk up and be muscular." Blame the Marvel Cinematic Universe, suggests Abdelmahmoud. He points out that our ideals years ago were Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis, who "looked fit, sure, but part of the appeal was that they also looked like regular guys. But in 2021, being a teenage boy means having endured a dozen years of Marvel movie box office dominance, with an array of ripped superheroes serving as the most popular form of entertainment on the planet." (Read the full piece for stories of more male sufferers.)