Despite the pervasive masculinity ideal and inadequate resources on campuses for males who struggle with body and food issues, there are effective ways to counteract the compulsive exercise and disordered eating habits which so many male students adopt.
In the early stages of his recovery from an eating disorder while at university, Thomas found it immensely helpful to “have a clear plan and structure, know when it was healthy to say no, and not feel obligated to push myself when I really did feel burnt out and needed time to rest and sleep.”
Chris, a recent graduate of Boston College who struggled with disordered eating and over-exercising, also found it critical to “realize my limits and what parts of my collegiate life actually fulfilled me. These were crucial steps towards finding balance and happiness at college.”
Talk about it
Asking for help is also crucial—but this can be especially challenging for males, due to under-recognition that men struggle with eating disorders too, as well as the unreasonable cultural expectation that men be self-reliant and not have emotional needs. Now years into his recovery, Thomas encourages male students who are struggling to “acknowledge your struggles and speak out”, while recognizing that this “takes a great deal of courage and at times a swallowing of self-pride.”
Thomas found that “having a strong support network of friends and loved ones was vitally important. These were the people that I could just have a simple conversation with that enabled me to walk away feeling refreshed and inspired.” Chris echoes Thomas’s emphasis on the importance of connection with others about these vulnerable topics: “What helped me so much during college were the honest conversations I had with friends. By talking with male roommates and friends who also struggled with body image issues, I felt so much less isolated.”
Exchanging stories is an invaluable strategy for recovery. When Chris began to speak honestly with his peers at school about his issues, he realized that “putting my issues into words and hearing other perspectives helped me make sense of my own relationship to my body.”
Thomas and Chris are just two of many males who struggle with body image and eating disorders on campus. On a broader level, widespread cultural change is called for to help bring attention and resources to male college students who are struggling right now. Endeavors being undertaken by schools, eating disorder treatment providers, and eating disorder recovery advocacy organizations include:
- More frequent and thorough screenings of males on campus
- Creating gender-sensitive eating disorder treatment options and awareness campaigns
- Cultivating conversations concerning cultural messages about masculinity
If you or someone you know might be struggling with an eating disorder, contact EDRS to learn more about the services offered for college students through our Campus Companion program. You may also want to check out How to Overcome an Eating Disorder at College, and explore what resources your campus offers, such as eating disorder awareness events, peer support groups, campus health and counseling services, and residence life programs.